Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Volume 01 – Manga Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Megumi Osuga
Original Story: Kotaro Isaka
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Sunday)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

If you had the power to change the world, would you do it?

Ben Parker’s words that have so haunted the young man who would become Spider-Man are true … with great power comes great responsibility. Ando, a young High school student and the protagonist of Volume 1 of Maoh: Juvenile Remix, has a power that could be used for good in a city where the savior might actually have an evil agenda. It’s time to step up to do something and Ando might very well be that man in a story that is actually quite engaging.

Maoh takes place in Nekota City, a place that had once been a charming little burg in Japan that slowly began to see giant corporations destroy the city’s small business and turn its back on the people as crime increases. Among the city’s many citizens is Ando who lives with his brother after their parents died in a horrible accident. He’s a somewhat quiet young man with a few friends and a secret he wants to share with his friend but doesn’t due to the fact that the last group of friends he shared said secret with ended up believing Ando was some kind of lunatic.

You see, Ando believes that he can make anyone say out loud what he is thinking … kind of like a type of mind-control ventriloquism. So you can see Ando’s reluctance in telling people about this gift that he believes he has but hasn’t really confirmed. It isn’t until one day, catching a train with his brother, Junya, they catch a glimpse of a cute girl getting groped by an older man. The timid girl isn’t able to defend herself against the older man who practically dares her to say anything. When Junya and Ando try to stick up for her the man slaps Ando and accuses them all of attempting to get money out of him. Suddenly, the power locked within Ando awakens and he makes the girl stand up for herself.

As Ando is trying to understand his power as well as try to accept that he does have a gift, he and his brother witness a strangely handsome young man confront a group of street thugs who are bullying people around them. This young man is Inukai, the leader of a group of vigilantes called Grasshopper sworn to protect the city from those who mean to ruin it. Seen as a savior and saint, Inukai doesn’t even resort to violence to stop the leader of the street thugs even when the leader smacks him over the head with his baseball bat.

One day, Ando sees the same gang leader and his group of thugs looking to put the hurt on Inukai only to find the young man with his Grasshopper followers who now wear masks. Too Ando’s complete horror, the gang and their leader is beaten to a pulp. How can a man that preaches peace in the neighborhood be capable of such great violence? Is he really the saint the people make him out to be or is he something else altogether?

These are questions that Ando asks himself but with so many people supporting Inukai and the Grasshoppers it might be just in his mind. Then, a classmate invites him to a symposium where Inukai is an invited guest who confronts a councilman who he accuses to be on the side of big business rather than the city. Within mere minutes, Inukai has the audience on his side as they all begin glaring at the councilman. Ando discovers the gang leader that Inukai had beaten wearing a Grasshopper uniform. On top of that, tragedy befalls the councilman. Something is clearly wrong.

The next day, Ando’s otaku classmate, who is always being picked on by the school’s bullies, asks Ando to come to the science room where the boy unleashes his revenge on the bullies in an elaborate and deadly manner. It becomes clear to Ando that Inukai’s influence might have played a role in his classmate’s dangerous choice of getting back at his tormentors.

The series does have a wonderfully dark and creepy side as the story is just beginning to warm up but it also has a delightfully comical side as well. The comedy in the series comes in the form of Ando’s friends and his brother – who dates a girl who often wears mismatched socks or forgets to button up. He also has an attractive and bosomy upperclassman named Machiko who greets him by shoving her, um, assets in his face.

Volume 1 of Maoh: Juvenile Remix is just getting started but it already has our interest thanks to the story and the somewhat disturbing tone. We’ve seen manga about characters with powers but Maoh is going in a good direction that – we hope – will just keep getting better with each volume. This is certainly a shonen manga worth a good look.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A-
Ando has always thought he had a special ability and when he decides to stand up for a girl in the subway he displays the power hidden within him that makes others say out loud what he is thinking. While he tries to make heads or tails of this power, Ando wonders if the vigilante group called Grasshopper and its leader really have the city’s best interest in mind.

ART: B+
While the art isn’t too original it does the job nicely for this series and the character design gives each character its own personality that shines through well enough.

OVERALL: A-
Actually quite engrossing to the point that you will be pleased by its story, Volume 1 of Maoh: Juvenile Remix is an appropriately creepy and a good read from start to finish. While the characters have yet to show their true colors, the story has great potential to become that new shonen favorite worthy of buying. Consider us hooked on this one.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Advertisements

Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, Season 2 Part Two – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 280 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Action
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

It’s the battle of the mightiest disciples and the gloves are off.

Ever since he joined the martial arts masters of the dojo known as Ryozanpaku, Kenichi Shirahama has been the target of the Ragnarok gang composed of the best fighters that want nothing more than to test the skills of the one that might actually be the mightiest disciple of martial arts. Strangely enough, with every member Kenichi defeats, those that were once his enemy becomes his greatest ally. In Part Two of Season 2 of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, Kenichi faces off against the leader of the group and things will never be the same after this fight.

If anything, Part One of this season gave us a brief glimpse into Kenichi’s past and the childhood friend that – for reasons that weren’t explained fully – was transformed into the leader of Ragnarok. In this second part, the reason behind Ryuto’s anger as well as the reason he became Odin, the First Fist, is revealed as Kenichi begins his most difficult challenge yet. Before he does that, though, he arrives in time to find Ragnarok’s own Kisara going up against a group of girls calling themselves the Valkyries. Seeing her hanging out with Kenichi and Miu, the gang of girls believe that Kisara has betrayed Ragnarok as well as their mentor named Freya.

While Miu rushes off to save the cute kitten that is behind Kisara’s change of heart, Kenichi just isn’t able to raise a fist to a group of girls. The result of this is the Valkyries comically chasing Kenichi and kicking him around until the beautiful and lethal weapons master Shigure Kosaka shows up. Instead of whipping out her trademark blades, Shigure takes out the enemy with wooden cooking utensils. Shigure not only defeats them but humiliates them all including their leader, Freya. As Kisara cuts ties with Ragnarok, Niijima tries an embarrassing (and downright hilarious) tactic to get her to join the Shinpaku and it actually works. Watching Kisara get all goofy over kittens is one of the comical highlights of Part Two.

In fact, Niijima nearly steals the show in this second half of the season and shows us that he’s more than just a creepy guy but he’s a true tactical genius and a genuine threat to the enemy. While he continues (and fails) to recruit Hermit to fight for the Shinpaku Alliance, he does get Kisara as well as the opera-singing Siegfried to join. This fact has the remaining members of Ragnarok surprised and a bit confused as to why the once loyal members of this group have jumped ship to join Kenichi and the Shinpaku Alliance.

Revisiting and old neighborhood with Miu, Kenichi runs into Odin who is trying to get Kenichi to remember what happened in the old neighborhood and why that badge he always wore was so important to Odin when he was then just known as Ryuto. As the two talk and relive a particularly important moment involving a vending machine and a cute little blonde-haired girl, Kenichi comes to the realization that said blonde-haired girl is somebody he knows very well. It is their chance meeting with this little girl and watching her beat up two grown adults that makes both Ryuto and Kenichi make a promise.

Sadly, Ryuto has twisted a childhood promise and turned it into something else more sinister. While Kenichi tries to convince him that there shouldn’t be any hostility between them, Ryuto sees things differently and they fight. Within seconds, Kenichi experiences the true power of the First Fist and the aftermath has a badly injured Kenichi trying to deal with defeat. His depression catches the eye of the Elder himself as the Master of Ryozanpaku decides to train Kenichi out in the forest. Kenichi’s training suddenly becomes a test of strength as well as a battle for survival. Oh, and there are bears and a stranger who has a connection to Ryozanpaku and the Elder.

Meanwhile, the Shinpaku Alliance is in trouble when Ragnarok sends Berserker after them. Berserker is a formidable fighter who not only takes down Takeda and Ukita but a number of Shinpaku members as well. Niijima makes an impressive attempt to take Berserker out only to have Siegfried save him. As Ragnarok and the Shinpaku Alliance clash in a battle that has some surprising allies show up to take on some personal business (e.g. Freya and Kisara face off but so does Berserker and another surprising ally). Loki even reveals his master plan.

Kenichi, sensing that his friends are in trouble, cuts his training short to make it to the battlefield in time to have a rematch with Odin. I don’t want to spoil what goes on in this battle but it is one of Kenichi’s bigger fights that gets even more impressive as Kenichi takes all that he has learned from the Elder, Shigure, Akisame, Sakaki, Apachi, Kensei and even Miu and applies their techniques in the fight of his life. It is their fight that will decide the fate of the Shinpaku Alliance as well as Ragnarok.

With more funny moments and a grand battle near the end, Part Two of Season 2 of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple might not be the best part of this season but it is a monumental and memorable moment for Kenichi and the Shinpaku Alliance. Where the series will go from here has us very intrigued as Ragnarok’s true face is shown and the fate of both groups is soon to be decided.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
As Ragnarok members begin to abandon the gang to join the Shinpaku Alliance, Kenichi runs into the First Fist (aka Odin) who holds a grudge for something that occurred in their past after a surprising meeting with a character that changed their lives. This encounter leads Kenichi to push his training to the next level with none other than the Elder himself. Meanwhile, Ragnarok and the Shinpaku Alliance finally clash.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
The fights in this second half of the season will most definitely stand out over previous battles and the clash between Odin and Kenichi in the end of Part Two is – by far – one of the series’ finest moments.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The voice acting in this series has always remained consistently good for both the Japanese and English dub side and the score equally good. The new ending theme song, “Kokoro Kara no Message” is even better than the last one.

EXTRAS: D
All you’ll find here are the usual assortment of trailers and the option to watch the opening and closing animation without ending credits.

OVERALL: B
With a bigger emphasis on comedy in the beginning of Part Two of Season 2 of Kenichi, the real excitement comes in the final episodes as the Shinpaku Alliance and Ragnarok clash in a battle that will pit friend against friend. The series has seen better episodes but, with no shortage of good fights, there’s much to like about the second part of this season.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part One – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 320 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

This may be familiar territory but that doesn’t mean it’s not still outstanding and lots of fun to watch.

All it took was one episode of the original anime release of Fullmetal Alchimist to hook me and several episodes after that I found myself going the legion of fans from all over the globe in singing its praises for many years to come. So it’s no surprise that I practically begged to review the Blu-ray release of Brotherhood, a new anime retelling true to the manga by Hiromu Arakawa. What we have here in Part One of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a series that might not be as epic as the first anime release but it will not disappoint fans new and old either way.

You know you’re in for a different viewing experience when the opening scene after the title credits roll has Edward Elric and his armor-plated brother Alphonse goes up against a former State Alchemist turned traitor named Isaac “the Freezer” McDougal who murders State Alchemist officers by freezing or boiling a person from within. Capturing McDougal has been the priority of one Roy Mustang but it is King Bradley who steps in when Edward Elric is too injured to continue pursuit. Yes, this King Bradley is somehow even more menacing and formidable than in the previous anime version.

You see, Edward and Alphonse were two cheerful lads living peacefully with their mother in the city of Resembool when tragedy befalls this small family. When the boys’ mother passed away from illness, these kids attempt to use the art of alchemy to bring her back to life. However, the laws of alchemy are very clear that you cannot get something for nothing and the result is that Edward loses his arm and leg while Alphonse loses his entire body. Quickly recovering, Edward manages to fuse Al’s soul into an empty suit of armor and thus their actions catch the attention of the State Military and a State Alchemist known as Colonel Roy Mustang.

In order to get their bodies back, Ed and Al decide to work with the State Military as well as search for a valuable object known as the Philosopher’s Stone that might be a key to undoing their horrible mistake. This quest takes them to Lior where a prophet named Father Cornello has convinced the people of the city that he can perform miracles. Ed and Al, of course, smell alchemy despite the fact that he doesn’t draw a transmutation circle. They meet a young woman named Rose who believes in the Father but the truth is revealed to her and, sadly, the truth about the father’s ring that seems to amplify his alchemy skills.

We also meet the Homunculi like the sultry yet deadly Lust and the freakishly grotesque Gluttony who has been manipulating Father Cornello by the orders of a mystery leader. Just who or what are the Homunculi I will not reveal but they are motivated by the same goal in locating the real Philosopher’s Stone. Meanwhile, back in Central, a vicious killer with twin scars across his face is targeting and slaying State Alchemists … a fact that has the State Military worried.

The series runs through many other familiar moments such as when the brothers meet Shou Tucker and his daughter Nina, which leads up to a powerfully emotional and tragic moment. This event changes the boys as they go up against the State Alchemist killer officially known as Scar. We find out his connection with the murder of a group of his people known as the Ishabalans and his reasons for wanting to see State Alchemists like Roy Mustang dead.

The series is zips through Ed and Al’s interest in Doctor Marcoh’s research on the Philosopher’s Stone that leads them to find the secrets behind a State Military prison and a hidden laboratory. As Al begins to question whether he is real, the brothers continue on their quest and finding themselves meeting up with the person that helped them better understand Alchemy when they were young … a woman named Izumi Curtis.

Brotherhood covers memorable moments with less flash than the original anime so those little touches that made the original so endearing are replaced by scenes that get right to the main story. Gone is the birth of Maes Hughes daughter and scenes of Ed preparing for the exam to become a State Alchemist. However, there are new moments here that are nice touches such as Al keeping a notebook with all the things he wants to try once he gets his body back and yes Ed is still touchy about his height. The original voice cast is mostly back with a few exceptions, one of the more obvious – of course – is Maxey Whitehead standing in for Aaron Dismuke who was 12 years old when he recorded the voice of Al. Whitehead actually does a magnificent job too.

Part One of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is true to the manga and it’s a fun ride that is sure to rekindle the love we have for the characters, story and memorable scenes. Sure, it cuts through the filler that actually added more depth to the main story but it is hard to ignore how beautiful this story is and how the rich characterization make Brotherhood compulsively watch-worthy material either way. We cannot wait the Part Two and beyond that seeing as the best stuff is yet to come.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric commit the ultimate sin amongst Alchemists and they pay for it dearly but swearing to rectify their error the boys join the State Alchemists in search of the Philosopher’s Stone to get back what they lost. Along the way, the brothers uncover a startling fact … not only are there members with the State Military after the same thing but so are the dangerous Homunculi as well.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
The series looks just as good as the earlier anime series and even more so on Blu-ray where the animation seems to stand out even more than on DVD. It’s great to see all the familiar faces again as well as familiar scenes that are changed to match the manga version.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The music is every bit as amazing as the earlier anime version and the opening theme song “Again” by YUI is a perfect introduction. Even the closing theme song, “USO” performed by SID is awesome. As far as the voices are concerned, it’s great to hear Vic Mignogna again as well as many others and Maxey Whitehead definitely handles Alphonse perfectly.

EXTRAS: B+
There’s audio commentary for Episode 1 with voice actors Colleen Clinkenbeard, Maxey Whitehead and Travis Willingham that is fun to listen to while watching the episode. So is the commentary track for Episode 10 with ADR Director Caitlyn Glass (who also voices Winry Rockbell) and voice actors Sonny Straight (Maes Hughes) and Laura Bailey (Lust). There’s also the textless opening and closing theme songs and a few trailers.

OVERALL: B+
Some acts are hard to follow as we can see from Part One of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood but this faithful retelling of the manga version is still a beautifully crafted story that is a brilliant epic no matter how you slice and dice it. If you’re a hardcore fan, buying this one on Blu-ray is a very good idea and we are so looking forward to the next chapters.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Biomega, Vol. 2 – Manga Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

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

The zombie apocalypse is the least of their problems.

I said it once I’ll say it again … if it involves zombies and the end of the world I am so there. Volume 1 of Biomega had it all for me and that includes a talking grizzly who knows how to use a sniper rifle but it lacked a little something that would have put this manga series right up there with the best zombie-themed comics. With Volume 2, however, Biomega switches gears and things get a little more interesting.

Hot in pursuit of a girl who is considered an accommodator of the N5S virus that has turned most of the human population into zombie drones or worst, the synthetic human known as Zoichi Kanoe is determined to rescue Eon Green from the Data Recovery Foundation (DRF) who ordered that everyone be “baptized” in the N5S virus. What plans do they have for the girl who is somehow immune to the virus has yet to be revealed but as Zoichi races to catch up to her another problem arises. It seems that the DRF has set its sights on Toa Heavy Industries that is connected with Zoichi.

As the DRF forces storm Toa Heavy Industries, though, they target a Doctor Kurokawa and his daughter who not only have a link to Zoichi’s past but has been involved with the synthetic human program that helped create him and others like him. Despite the advice against going to Toa Heavy Industries by Zoichi’s digitized intelligence named Fuyu, the synthetic human does so anyway and fights his way to the main lab where he finds a tragic sight and goes up against a tough DRF agent. After say goodbye to a good friend, Zoichi makes his escape just in time to see the fall of Toa Heavy Industries.

Meanwhile, making his way through a drone-infested city, the talking grizzly bear known as Kozlov runs into a problem when he catches the attention of a DRF agent aboard a subway train. What results is an exciting moment as the grizzly tries to escape the agent only to be rescued by a feminine figure that wears the same outfit and riding a similar-looking motorcycle as Zoichi. She is Nishu Mizunoe who has a digitized intelligence named Shin who actually gets emotional.

With word that the enemy has taken Eon Green to the Continental Geostationary Satellite, Zoichi redirects his attention towards rescuing her but this time relays his intentions to Nishu. On his way, though, he runs into a different kind of DRF agent that sends Zoichi flying off his bike. As it turns out, the DRF has powerful agents working under the direct order of a hideous freak that is interested in Eon Green’s background that is actually quite intriguing. Ah, the mystery behind Eon Green is slowly unraveling and she’s getting more interesting with each volume.

Speaking of getting interesting, the enemy is starting to show its face in the form of three powerful new agents that enter the DRF headquarters and with a new ally joining the fight things are about to get even more action-packed. We get a glimpse of what Zoichi and Nishu will have to go up against as Zoichi rescues what he thinks is a helpless girl only to find out that there is more to this girl than meets the eye. I don’t want to spoil the surprise but this girl is sure to show up again in this story so here’s hoping we find more about her in the next volumes.

We also find out a lot more about Zoichi in this volume, particularly his past living among the people of Toa Heavy Industries including the model that was used as the synthetic human program’s “mother.” Even more interesting is the program itself.

As the story begins to evolve and gather momentum, Volume 2 of Biomega is starting to become a lot more exciting than the series’ first volume. As new allies and new enemies show up, the fight to save humanity and a mysterious girl immune to the virus heats up in a good way. Consider is hooked and looking forward to Volume 3.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
The situation has become critical thanks to the DRF taking direct control after they captured and secured Eon Green and they are now targeting Toa Heavy Industries … particularly a Doctor and his daughter. Zoichi makes it his priority to save those who are responsible for his life. Meanwhile, Kozlov is saved by a mystery woman who is just like Zoichi.

ART: A-
Tsutomu Nihei’s art continues to be visually pleasing to the eye and wonderfully original in a way that is pleasing even to Western comic fans. The action is still at its gory best with zombie and bad guy limbs flying and blood splattering everywhere. This one is certainly not for the squeamish.

OVERALL: B+
As new characters are introduced and the enemy clearly has the advantage, Volume 2 of Biomega becomes more appealing and definitely a lot more exciting. With Zoichi attempting to rescue two important people from Toa Heavy Industries as well as get Eon Green back, the situation has become more dangerous and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

D. Gray-Man, Season Two Part Two – DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Supernatural/Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

The calm before the storm?

Season Two of D. Gray-Man was off to an exciting start as the Millennium Earl has made his first move against the Exorcists that have sworn to stop him and the Akuma that do his evil bidding. By the end of the first part of this second season, many Exorcists have lost their lives and the Clan of Noah – the Millennium Earl’s most devoted and dangerous followers – begin their hunt for Exorcist Generals. Part Two of Season Two isn’t as dark as Part One but it is still a fun journey as well follow Allen Walker and his fellow Exorcists.

With Kanda and Marie traveling with the artistic General Tiedoll, Allen and Lenalee finally make it to Bulgaria in their continued search for Allen’s old mentor, General Cross. Rescuing a fellow traveler on a way to a village holding a Rose Festival, the young pair run into Krory, Lavi and Bookman who were ordered to join the two in search of General Cross. Since Exorcists are being killed by members of the Clan or Noah, it is much safer to travel as a group.

Of course, this doesn’t stop the surprising number of Akuma from attacking them and Allen feels that something is watching their every move. It isn’t until they reach a city in search of shelter from the rain that they come to realize that Allen was right. They are led to an empty inn by a strange black cat and encounter a beautiful blonde woman who calls herself Lulu Bell. Their stay in the inn is short since Akuma attack their very room and Lulu Bell mysteriously disappears. It doesn’t take Lenalee long to figure out that something was not right about the young woman.

As it turns out, Lulu Bell is a member of the Clan of Noah and along with her cute servant in a maid outfit named Mimi, this agent of the Millennium Earl who can turn into anyone is tasked with stopped them from locating General Cross. While Lulu Bell plays a psychological game of cat and mouse with Allen and the others, Mimi is the bumbling henchwoman who fails at her task in a number of comical ways. It’s blast watching Maid Mimi trying to steal Lavi’s hammer only to fail in so many ways.

Lulu Bell, on the other hand, is far more effective in her attempts and comes close many times such as the episode where she turns into Lenalee and feels even a vampire like Krory. She even turns into the statue of a favorite deity for a small village, putting the lives of innocent civilians in danger just to get to them. During a confrontation with her, Lenalee is badly injured as Allen is forced to move ahead with Krory while Lavi tends to his fallen comrade. It is separated that Lulu Bell feels that they are the weakest but she wasn’t counting on Allen’s determination or Krory and Lavi’s loyalty.

Meanwhile, we get an episode following Kanda, Marie and General Tiedoll on their journey only to meet a fellow artist who came to town to see a most unusual mansion built by an artistic architect. Little do they know what dangerous Akuma have taken over the mansion and the very edifice becomes a deathtrap for the Exorcists.

With rumors that General Cross is in Asia, Allen and Krory head for Nepal and make a dangerous journey to Nepal to meet up with Lenalee, Lavi and Bookman. When they finally do reunite, they encounter a Chinese city that is suffering a drought. On top of that, there’s a young girl that is said to possess the ability to tell the future via a crystal ball. She is Mei Ling, a girl who has a vision of her in an Exorcist uniform crying over the dead bodies of Lenalee, Allen, Krory, Lavi and Bookman. When she sees the group of Exorcists, it becomes clear that these are the people she saw in her vision. Is this really a glimpse of the future?

Recognizing a potential threat to the Millennium Earl, Lulu Bell tries to capture Mei Ling in a showdown with the Exorcists. The Maid Mimi makes a stand for her mistress as the maid’s past is revealed as well as the reasons she is so devoted to Lulu Bell. What happens next is actually quite touching but the result of the fight has a victory for the Exorcists and the Millennium Earl. Moving forward, Allen and the others head for Japan where they meet an ally who knows where General Cross might be this very minute.

While not as riveting or as grim as Part One, Part Two of Season Two of D. Gray-Man is still blast mainly because of the bad guys that make the Exorcist’s journey such a difficult task. New friends are made along the way and the Millennium Earl’s plans are still in full swing but here’s hoping what comes next will be just as intriguing and exciting as the first part of this second season.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
The search for the elusive General Cross continues as Allen and Lenalee meet up with Lavi, Krory and Bookman who join their search. However, a member of the Clan of Noah and her loyal servant are following closely as they attempt to keep the five Exorcists from finding General Cross. Along the way they meet a girl with a special ability that could make her a good weapon against the Millennium Earl.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
The series continues to look really good and, of course, watching the Exorcists in battle is still quite pleasing to the eyes.

AUDIO QUALITY: B
The original Japanese voices still rock but, as I probably said one too many times, the series just works better viewing it with the English dub cast. Plus, we don’t often get to hear Monica Rial do a sultry and downright sexy voice. I definitely like the new closing theme song “Antoinette Blue” performed by Nana Kitade.

EXTRAS: D
Sure there are trailers and sure there’s the option to watch the opening and closing animation minus the credits but the real extra comes in the form of audio commentary for Episode 50. The commentary features a rather animated conversation with episode director/voice actor Brina Palencia plus Monica Rial (who voices Lulu Bell) and Jason Liebrecht (who voices Lavi and the Millennium Earl).

OVERALL: B
As Allen Walker and the other Exorcists attempt to locate General Cross, a dangerous foe is on their trail and will stop at nothing to keep them from finding the General in Season Two Part Two of D. Gray-Man. This second half of the series isn’t as dark as the first part of this new season but it still manages to be interesting and loads of fun to watch thanks to the villains.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment.

Rosario + Vampire, Vol. 10 – Manga Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Akihisa Ikeda
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Jump Advanced)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Now Available

School’s out … until the next season.

When Tsukune Aono first stepped foot on Yokai Academy after a most unusual bus ride, never in a million years did he think that he would be the only human at the school but also the target of affection of five very unique girls. Ten volumes later, Rosario + Vampire closes its first “season” to make room for the next chapter in the story of a human who has found acceptance amongst monsters.

In Volume 9 we met Tsukune’s dense cousin, Kyoko, who was so worried about her young cousin that she found a way to cross into the world of the monsters via a mystery woman that handed her an envelope to deliver on campus. Hilariously, Kyoko has jumped to many a conclusion about Yokai Academy but when a huge monster appears there is no doubt in her mind that the school is no “kinky school” as she pointed out.

As she runs for her life, the mystery envelope she carries suddenly begins to speak to Kyoko and when she opens it she is starring at Lilith, the spirit that inhabits a mirror with a most unusual power. You see, the Lilith Mirror has the ability to reveal a person’s true nature and in a school filled with monsters disguised as humans you can bet Kyoko is in for a big surprise. As each monster’s real form is revealed to her, the young girl finally becomes frightened and even more so when Lilith reveals everyone’s true nature … including Moka’s other self.

With monsters clashing all around them and the school’s building getting smashed all around them, Tsukune attempts to find the cause only he has his hands full with his friends trying to seduce him … even Ruby isn’t immune to the Lilith Mirror’s effects. Yet what crushes the poor boy is the fact that Moka’s other self sees the mirror as a chance to bring out her true vampire self any time she likes without using Tsukune to rip out the Rosario. Has she always seen Tsukune as just a tool or is there a real reason behind wanting the mirror?

It doesn’t take too long before the culprit behind the whole disaster makes an appearance and the enemy’s identity isn’t a big surprise but I won’t spoil things by revealing said identity. What I will say is that this person has targeted Moka for some payback but for another creepy reason. Once again, Tsukune joins Moka in confronting the threat and in the end the bad guy is taken out but the school is devastated. It is the Headmaster who makes the decision to send all students back home and this means Tsukune will return to the Human World.

Of course, his return home is not destined to be a quiet one. Just as he’s about to have tea with his mother, Moka appears at the door. She has come to visit him out of a strange feeling that she might never see him again. Amusingly enough, she’s not the only one in the Human World because Kurumu has snuck into his bedroom and so has Mizore and Yukari. With so many girls in the house trying to declare their love for him, Tsukune’s mom is going crazy trying to distract them. However, Tsukune’s mom has some surprising words for Moka.

Interestingly enough, the best part of this chapter isn’t Mizore’s confrontation with Kurumu in the Human World but it’s Moka’s other self who finally says what was need to be said. The competition for Tsukune’s heart is getting out of hand and it is time that Tsukune make a decision about who he wants to be with in the romantic sense. Here’s hoping that he finally does make a decision in Season II. In the end, the girls are ordered to go back home, leaving Tsukune in the Human World.

The final chapter is like a lost chapter in a time before Mizore and Ruby joined them. It seems that a good-looking guy with an interest in Moka reveals that they both share a similarity … they’re both vampires. Like in ancient tradition, the young vampire named Junya invokes an ancient vampire right. Only vampires are suppose to marry other vampires. While Tsukune thinks he should give Moka up, another part of him makes him realize that some things are more important than old traditions.

In the end, Volume 10 of Rosario + Vampire doesn’t go out with a bang but rather sticks with what it has been doing since the first volume. Sure, that might be a bit disappointing but the story is still a good one with plenty of fun moments scattered throughout so whose complaining, right? Overall, the first part of Rosario + Vampire had its weak moments and its strong ones but fans were never really disappointed by the story that still has a lot to offer.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
Having been convinced that the suspicious-looking school was for perverts, Tsukune’s dense cousin finally comes to learn the truth about Yokai Academy as a dangerous foe makes a return to destroy the school and have her revenge on Moka. The result of the battle leaves the school in a bad shape so Tsukune decides to go home until the school reopens. Of course, he’s in for the surprise of his life when his friends start showing up in the Human World.

ART: A
The art in the first half of this series never disappointed whether you like a good fight sequence, the interesting monster design or – if you’re into it – the excessive fan service. Akihisa Ikeda is certainly a talented artist either way.

OVERALL: B+
Volume 10 of Rosario + Vampire doesn’t go out in a spectacular way nor does it shake things up story-wise but it continues its long tradition of being a fun series that had its ups and downs but still managed to entertain in its own way. Here’s hoping that Tsukune’s cousin, Kyoko, shows up in Season II as well but either way we will definitely look forward to the next chapter of this series.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

CLAMP Double Feature, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: Available Now

CLAMP’s idea of a night at the movies is definitely fine with us.

Sitting in the middle row of a crowded movie theater in Ikebukuro, a lone blonde-haired American girl is giddy with excitement with the rest of her fellow CLAMP fans when the lights dim as a double feature of her two favorite anime series that is about to begin. That girl was me at the second showing of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle’s The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom and xxxHolic’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As happy as I was to see it on the big screen, I was even more to have it on Blu-ray as CLAMP Double Feature is released for the HD crowd.

The double feature, of course, has been released before on DVD but on Blu-ray the single disc is packed with plenty of extras but the main attraction – of course – is the whole audio and visual upgrade. We’re talking a sharper picture and better sound so expect this one to look even better than what was seen on the big screen. As for the two features, they play more like bonus episodes from each series that actually intersect with each another.

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom

The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom finds our five dimensional travelers crash landing in another world in their continued quest to find Princess Sakura’s memory feathers. While Syaoran lands next to Sakura in this strange kingdom that seems to be encased in a birdcage-like barrier and that every citizen has their own bird. Unfortunately, this beautiful place has a tyrant King that wishes to locate the kind Princess he overthrew in order to bring darkness to the kingdom.

It doesn’t take Sakura and Syaoran (along with their cute companion Mokona) to meet a boy who takes them to meet Princess Tomoyo who happens to be another alternate reality version of a girl that their swordsman companion Kurogane knows from his own world. Cursed by her Uncle who overthrew her, she is only able to make her voice heard when people touch her and she makes it clear that the King is looking to use her as a key in order to unlock a mystical gate that will shroud the kingdom in eternal darkness.

Of course, the King’s servant bird warriors find the Princess and kidnap her so it’s up to our travelers to help a Captain of the guards loyal to the Princess to stage a rescue. There’s a skirmish along the way as Kurogane and the powerful magician Fay D. Flourite fight off monster birds. Meanwhile, Syaoran becomes the hero by letting himself be launched up into the air to battle the evil King atop his magical bird. I have to say that Syaoran has always put his life on the line many a time during their journey seen in the series but he’s just downright cool in this movie.

Like a good Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle episode, The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom is short but exciting with plenty of memorable moments crammed in there. Fan girls will love the scene where Sakura and Syaoran share an awkward ride inside a barrel (it was a highlight in the movie theater when I saw it) and yes the Dimensional Witch Yuko from xxxHolic makes an appearance giving the gang an item seen in the xxxHolic movie. It’s a great crossover moment that links these two feature films.

Overall, short and sweet definitely worked well but you can’t help wishing the story could have been longer. It really doesn’t give the viewer a chance to really experience the feeling of seeing Tsubasa in a feature that stands out over the televised series version. Given the beautiful art direction and stunning visual effects, this definitely could have been longer.

xxxHolic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watanuki finds himself still trailed by annoying spirits and while he gets a chance to say goodbye to Himawari (who is off for the summer break) he still finds Domeki even more annoying. On top of that his summer will consist of working at the shop with his demanding boss, the Dimensional Witch Yuko who immediately demands sake from the young High school student. Oh yeah, she also has him clean out the storage room.

It doesn’t take too long before a young woman makes a wish she wishes Yuko to grant that involves a mansion that is connected to a mysterious invitation that arrived for Yuko. Together with Watanuki and Domeki, the sexy witch enters the mansion only to find a number of avid collectors waiting for the mystery host to appear. Posing as collectors themselves, the three join the party as members of the group begin to disappear.

Watanuki suddenly finds himself alone in the strange mansion that keeps getting weirder with each room he opens and just who is the spirit that keeps following the wired up young man? As he is joined up by Domeki who was lost in the house when they make a startling discovery about the owner of the mansion … he’s a collector as well.

The story actually plays out like an excellent episode from the series with an emotionally charged finale that is true to the xxxHolic series. If anything, though, it will be best remembered for an impressive confrontation between the ultimate collector and Yuko who shows off that she’s more than just a sexy witch but a rather formidable opponent as well. Thanks to both Todd Haberkorn and Jun Fukuyama, Watanuki’s energetic flailing is still comedic gold. Aside from that, it’s a good story albeit a really short one.

Both The Princess in the Birdcage and A Midsummer Night’s Dream might be on the short side but will not fail to make fans of both CLAMP series happy with this double feature that looks amazing on Blu-ray. In fact, both features are like two great episodes from each series with even better visual effects. Unfortunately, the two features aren’t very accommodating for newcomers so this is strictly for those who know and love both xxxHolic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
In The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom, Syaoran and the others drop down on a most unusual kingdom where an evil King is looking bring eternal darkness into the land and the only one who can stop him is a young Princess in hiding. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watanuki and Domeki join the Dimensional Witch named Yuko to a mansion where various collectors find themselves the target of the ultimate collector.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The double feature was released on DVD a long while back and it looked good back then but on Blu-ray it’s a whole new ballpark. Really, this is even more visually pleasing to the eye than the theatrical release and I had the pleasure of seeing this on the big screen when it came out in Japan.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
If you have a good sound system hooked up you’ll really get the full Dolby Digital sound experience but even if you don’t the sound is impressive. The great voice cast from the series is back and they do an amazing job whether we’re talking about the English dub or the Japanese voice talent. The music in both features are fantastic and so are the closing theme songs for the two features as well.

EXTRAS: A+
The disc is filled with juicy extras that includes production art for both features, original trailers for the theatrical release, event coverage like the 2005 premiere for The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom in Ikebukuro or the opening day event at the Shinjuki Cinema Milano for xxxHolic. On top of that, there’s a Japanese staff and cast commentary track where we get to see a split screen of the feature and the talent during the recording of the commentary.

OVERALL: B
Dedicated fans will certainly find a lot to enjoy about the CLAMP Double Feature and both features do have a lot to offer despite its short length and the fact that both features aren’t very inviting for those who are unfamiliar with both series. Still, if you are a fan, this double feature is worth a purchase on Blu-ray if you’ve always wanted to experience these features the way they were meant to be shown.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment