Code:Breaker, Volume 1 – Manga Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Author: Akimine Kamijyo
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $10.99 US
Rating: OT (Older Teen 16+)
Release Date: Available Now

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind … but also more interesting.

If you had to compare Code:Breaker to any other manga series it would be Death Note. Both have main male protagonists who seek justice against the criminal element that threatens society and both do it in a deadly fashion that turns them into judge, jury and executioner all in one youthful package. Volume 1 of Code:Breaker introduces us to young man with an appetite for vigilante justice and a girl who sees him as nothing more than just a murder.

In the first chapter, we meet Sakura Sakurakoji who is the prettiest girl in class who all the boys want to date and protect. From afar, she seems like a lovely yet delicate flower who is dainty and gets emotional while reading. As it turns out, Sakura is karate and akido black belt and yes she does cry while reading but not some sappy love story but rather while reading her favorite martial arts magazine. Sakura also has a strong sense of justice, which is why she witnesses – from afar – a young man murdering a group of thugs with his hand that looks to have been caught on fire and wants nothing more than to put the young man away.

She goes to the scene of the crime but the police think somebody had just set a campfire in the middle of the park. With no sign of any human remains, its almost as if the killer’s blue fire had evaporated the bodies. More determined than ever to find the killer, she doesn’t care if the men who died where thugs who might have been involved in the beating death of a homeless man. The thugs deserve jail not death.

As fate would have it, though, a new transfer student arrives at her High school and it is a good-looking fellow by the name of Rei Ogami and Sakura’s instincts lead her to believe that Rei was the young man who slaughtered all those thugs. She even notices that one of his hands is covered by a black glove … perhaps concealing burn marks or an injury he might have obtained when killing the thugs? While Rei warmly greets the class and seems like a likeable fellow, Sakura isn’t going to give up until she discovers the truth about Rei.

Following him around, Sakura tries to get the young man to confess but Rei flatly denies that it was him. As I said, Sakura is one of those determined girls and when her classmates see her follow the young man around they automatically assume the Sakura is smitten by Rei. This, of course, causes something of an uproar since most of the boys in school are in love with her.

In the same park where she witnesses the murders, Sakura goes to feed the stray dog that belonged to the homeless man that was beaten to death. A commotion in the park leads Sakura to witness a group of gang members harassing more homeless people and – thanks to her strong sense of justice – she steps in to defend them only to find herself in danger. When “Dog” (the stray dog she’s been feeding) fails to protect her and gets badly injured, it is Rei who comes to her rescue. It is there that she witnesses the young man’s unusual power and another mass killing.

So begins Sakura and Rei’s little game of “Who is right?” as Sakura tries to get Rei to turn himself into the police department. Having witnessed the young man unleash the power hidden behind that gloved hand and – sadly – his cold-blooded nature that put an end to Dog’s misery in the process. He tells her that it wouldn’t be good to turn those thugs to the authorities because that kind of justice no longer works. The stubborn girl continues push her ideals to Rei but is confused by the young man as well. How can somebody who comes off as sweet but such a vicious killer? How could he say that evil can only be combated by evil and hand her the cute puppy that belonged to “Dog?”

Rei, it seems, answers to a boss and it this mystery person who suggests that all witnesses should be disposed of and that also includes Sakura. Having let her live after witnessing his killing spree in the park, a part of Rei doesn’t want Sakura to die. When she leads him to a very public place, Rei discovers something about Sakura that officially makes killing her a big no-no. What it is we have yet to find out but when Sakura and Rei head into a gang hideout, Rei proves he is willing to kill everyone … including witnesses.

The art in Code:Breakers is actually really good but if I had to pick a flaw it would be the visual gags in the series that feel out of place at times. When Sakura cries out “pervert!” to a cop after having witnessed Rei’s killing spree she looks like a Muppet and totally takes the drama out of the scene. Then there’s Rei and Sakura, they’re an interesting pair but hardly what you would call likeable off the bat. Still, this is the first volume and the series does have a lot of potential.

This series does show a lot of promise and that’s what makes Volume 1 of Code:Breaker such an intriguing manga series worth following. While it’s too early to tell what direction the story will take or if we’ll come to like the main characters, the dark tone of the series does make for a good read either way and more so if you loved manga like Death Note. We are certainly looking forward for the next volume.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B-
Sakura is not only the prettiest and most popular girl in her High school but she’s also a firm believer in justice and martial arts and when she witnesses a young man murder a group of thugs using the power of a blue flame, she jumps at the case. However, a new transfer student named Rei joins her school and it turn out that the same person she watched kill the thugs. She quickly finds out that Rei is on a mission to eliminate all criminal scum in the city.

ART: B+
Kamijyo’s art is actually really good and the details in his action (or should I say murder) scenes are visually striking. Still, the comedic elements can feel out of place especially during the most serious moments.

OVERALL: B-
Volume 1 of Code:Breaker is an intriguing beginning to a series with a lot of possibilities but it’s a little too early to tell where this story is going or whether the characters will grow on us. Still, the dark theme of this manga and Rei’s determination to wipe of the city’s vermin keep this manga interesting. Here’s hoping that the next volume will keep us hooked.

Review copy provided by Del Rey Manga

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My Bride is a Mermaid, Part 2 – DVD Review

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Rating: TVMA
Release Date: September 7, 2010

Honor among thieves, samurai mermaids and tough guys in school girl outfits.

Being a fan of the genre, there have been many a romantic-comedy anime series that starts off original and ends up just going through the motions to become a series that doesn’t separate itself from others like it. Then there’s My Bride is a Mermaid, a series that seems to head for familiar territory but quickly reminds you that it’s not the destination that is important but, rather, how much fun you have getting there. Part 2 of My Bride is a Mermaid continues to have a good time as it heads for its wild finale.

In Part 1 we meet Nagasumi Michishio who is saved by a beautiful girl his age that just happens to be a mermaid … the mermaid daughter of a mermaid yakuza crime boss, to be exact. Not only does Sun Seto live under the same roof as Nagasumi but so does pop idol (who is also a mermaid) Lunar and Sun’s tiny bodyguard named Maki. It’s not easy being a 14-year old boy who is already engaged to marry Sun due to a mermaid law and even more stressful trying to hide the fact that his bride-to-be is a mermaid who reveals her true form if she happens to get water on her.

In this second half, Nagasumi makes another discovery about the merfolk and that is that they are horrified of cats as we can see when Nagasumi takes in a cute kitten. He suddenly realizes that he has a weapon against Sun’s father (who still wants Nagasumi out of the picture) as well as Maki and it actually works. We are introduced to a trio of brothers that call themselves the Bronchial Respiration Three who stick out like sore thumbs who also fall victim to the kitten.

Meanwhile, the Class Rep just can’t get Nagasumi out of her mind and thinks she might be in love with him. She has always been known by her duties as the representative of her glass who wears thick eyeglasses and never says much but now she wishes to change that and she even gives herself something of a makeover in order to tell Nagasumi how she feels. She gets the chance when rich boy Kai gets a pair of tickets and talks Sun and Nagasumi into a double date with him and Miwari. When Nagasumi accidentally runs into Class Rep and breaks her glasses. He doesn’t recognize her and she can’t see who she’s talking to so they spend the day together as they walk and talk their way to an eyeglasses store.

Then there’s the arrival of a new transfer student by the name of Akeno Shiranui who turns out to be a beautiful samurai sword-wielding mermaid who also happens to be an evaluator of merfolk behavior on the surface world. She has come to test Sun and the rest of the Seto gang to see if they’re fit to live among men and finds that Sun is far too nervous about being evaluated. Having already flagged Kai and the Bronchial Respiration Three, Sun has a reason to worry because if she does something that reveals her true identity then she is sent back to Seto for good.

Thankfully, Nagasumi smoothes things out and actually befriends Akeno to the point that she actually comes to like the guy. As they go on a three-day field trip, the class gets to experience Lunar’s celebrity life. Her popularity seems to be skyrocketing to the point that she’s even starring in a movie (produced with her father’s money) but Lunar feels lonely and even her Schwarzenegger-like father can see it. In one episode, Lunar’s father and Sun’s dad attempt to get closer to their daughters by copying the characters of a computer game. They even dress the part in cute schoolgirl outfits. Naturally, this approach doesn’t quite work.

There are even more zany moments in the series as Nagasumi tries another mermaid drink that has some funny properties and, in another episode, Nagasumi is happy to get his first love letter that may or may not come from the Class Rep who has a crush on him. Speaking of the Class Rep, it’s too bad that her confession of love goes nowhere and actually gets a little strange even for this show. The series does make up for it with Sun taking her “boyfriend” role too seriously when she decides to help Lunar prepare for a television drama. There’s even a genuinely hysterical moment when all of Kai’s classmates mistakenly believe he is dying from a disease.

The series gets interesting when we discover Akeno’s true mission that involves a nobleman who wants to see Nagasumi and Sun break off their engagement. It is thanks to Akeno that we also discover an interesting fact about the cool and sexy Masa but, sadly, it isn’t able to keep Akeno from fulfilling her master’s plan to trick Sun and her family into going to the nobleman’s party. As it turns out, the party was just a ruse and now it is up to Nagasumi and his friends to rescue Sun.

Part 2 of My Bride is a Mermaid continues the fun slapstick antics and decent humor that made the first part such a real blast to watch. There’s more off-beat comedic moments in this second part and while some elements feel more like missed opportunities (the Class Rep’s story, for instance) there is much to like in the final episodes of this remarkably amusing anime series.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
Still living with Sun, Lunar and Maki under the same roof, Nagasumi’s life is about to get even more complicated as Sun and her family are being evaluated by an attractive young mermaid that will decide if Sun and her yakuza clan can stay on the surface. There’s also a mystery person who is determined to split the young couple up and a classmate has her sights set on Nagasumi.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
Sure the dialogue makes for plenty of funny lines but its also the visual gags that don’t fail to make you laugh out loud a couple of times throughout this second half of the series. The series certainly does look good on DVD.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The Japanese voice actors do a great job in this series but they just can’t match the brilliance of the English dub performances that make the jokes work ten times better. You just can’t beat Todd Haberkorn and Cherami Leigh’s hysterical delivery. The music is still fun to listen to and the closing and ending theme songs are upbeat and cute.

EXTRAS: D
Sadly, you won’t find an audio commentary track for this one and just about the only extras are the ability to watch the opening and closing animation without credits. You’ll also find a few trailers included as well.

OVERALL: B
My Bride is a Mermaid continues to be that genuinely funny and zany comedy and Part 2 just amps up the craziness just a tad to make this a fun series as a whole. There’s even more emphasis on romance in this part and it’s actually endearing enough to make the finale a sweet and crazy ride. If you’re a fan of the genre, you will not be disappointed.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Casshern Sins, Part One – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: Blu-ray: $59.98 US; DVD: $44.98 US
Running Time: 288 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

How do you make up for destroying the world?

While I wasn’t born when “Neo-Human Casshern” was released in 1973, I did get to watch the series back in Japan and enjoyed it enough that when the reboot, Casshern Sins, was announced here on our side of the pond I could tell you I was excited enough to get everyone in this office excited. Released in two parts simultaneous on DVD and Blu-ray, we get our hands on the Blu-ray version of Part One of Casshern Sins and can safely say that this series is destined to be a true masterpiece and one of this year’s best anime releases.

Casshern Sins starts off with a bang as well as a fragment of a memory of a possible assassination of a girl who might have been the glue that holds the world together. You see, the slender and beautiful frame of a young man in an odd skintight uniform and helmet waits patiently to go up against a group of rusting robots that all want to devour him. All around him, the world – just like the robots – crumbles away. This young man is known as Casshern and while he doesn’t remember it, his sin is having caused this destructive event known as the Ruin.

Confirming this is a mysterious girl named Lyuze who accuses Casshern of killing “the Sun called Moon” as well as her sister and attacks the young man who goes on a quest to find out what he did and to discover the truth about himself. Why can’t he die and why does his injuries heal? Is he a robot or is he human? Why do all the robots believe that devouring his flesh would stop the Ruin from killing them and granting them immortality? He doesn’t know and when he meets a robot-child named Ringo who asks him these question it makes Casshern want to look for answers.

Along the way, the young man comes across the devastation caused by the Ruin but also the robotic and human inhabitants of the dying world. He finds himself trying to redeem himself by helping people he comes across such as the robot couple that is attacked by robotic bandits looking for spare parts. Interestingly enough, these two robots live their lives like humans and believe they are genuinely in love. The couple isn’t alone because they live with their mechanized dog named Friender (a nod to “Neo-Human Casshern“) as well as other robots that learn his identity and turn on him. Unfortunately, Casshern loses control and defends himself in the most violent way.

While he started his journey alone, Casshern finds himself trailed by Friender who both hates Casshern for what he did to the robots he lived with but also following him out of loneliness. Together they come across a lone human named Akoz who has been searching for the robots that Casshern defended himself against because of the rumors that they have accepted the fact that they were going to die. He also comes across a robot named Sophita who considers herself a fire and wishes to test her battle skills against Casshern … until she realizes the she has fallen in love with him.

Casshern also meets a redheaded robot who sings beautifully (and voiced to perfection by Caitlyn Glass in the English dub), a robot whose only desire is to bring something unique to the world by ringing a bell in the tower she created. In another episode, Casshern is touched by a crippled robot who wanted to bring beauty to an abandoned city by giving it color. It’s strange but all the robots Casshern he meets are driven by human desires and many of them even have strong desires to live.

In an interesting twist, however, Casshern comes across people that are much like him … one of which is on a mission to kill Casshern to right his wrong. Meanwhile, Lyuze returns to reveal to Casshern the nature of his sins and the sister he killed. Although she despises him at no end, Lyuze just can’t kill a person who is trying to make up for his sins. With every episode we catch a brief glimpse of Casshern and the girl he killed named Luna and what she meant to the world.

A deep and meaningful story aside, the series isn’t without its intense action sequences throughout that just get better with each episode. Another aspect of the series that really works is the animation that is actually quite striking and different from what we’ve seen on other anime series. Even the voice acting, both the Japanese voices and the English dub, are topnotch.

A stylishly original and deeply compelling anime series that takes a bold step in a new direction in terms of the genre, Casshern Sins is nothing short of impressive and compulsively watch worthy. If Part One is any indication of what the second half of this series is going to be like then FUNimation has a new classic on its hands and anime lovers will have a new series to talk about so missing this one is not an option, trust me. Buying this on Blu-ray is a very good idea but no matter what format you prefer, this is one you must not miss.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Not knowing who he is or why he is compelled to slay the rusting robots of a dying world, a young man named Casshern searches for clues of who he is and why every robots thinks they will gain immortality if they eat him. As he tries to understand the sin of killing the person who brought balance to this world, Casshern’s journey takes him on a grand adventure.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
The first 13 episodes of the series look amazing on Blu-ray and this is a very good thing since the animation in this series is simply stunning in ways that make this anime really stand out. Everything from the robots to the crumbling world are a true visual feast.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The quality of the voice acting is top notch no matter what your preference is but the English dub voices do stand out in a good way thanks to great performances all around. Besides that, the original score by Kaoru Wada is memorable and the opening and closing tunes are amazing but we loved the closing theme song “Reason” the most.

EXTRAS: C+
There are some trailers for upcoming FUNimation releases but the best extra comes in the form of a featurette that covers a 2008 event in Japan when they previewed the first episode to a large audience. The Japanese voice cast and the director were on hand and the Q&A is somewhat interesting.

OVERALL: A+
Part One of Casshern Sins is an unforgettable anime experience that will blow you away. It’s an imaginative and thought provoking series that keeps getting better with each episode and there’s no doubt in my mind that his one will turn out to be a true classic in its genre. Casshern Sins will make a fan out of you in no time.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Honey and Clover, Volume 10 – 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: Available Now

Is it really better to have loved than to not love at all?

Ah, sadly, all good things must come to an end and Volume 10 marks the final four chapters of this funny, sweet and beautifully told story of art school students finding love but, more importantly, finding themselves in the process. Since the manga was introduced to us at the office, we’ve found it difficult to wrestle it way from our fellow reviewer Clive Owen. I agree with him completely when he said that this is not only a shoujo manga that guys could even love but it is also a brilliant piece of literature that will make this a true classic.

Volume 10 picks up directly after the events of the last volume as Shinobu Morita ran to Hagumi’s side after her horrible accident that badly injured her arm. Although she’s afraid of what will happen if she isn’t able to get her hand working properly again, she allows Morita to take her away from the hospital. Her relationship with the oddball genius has always been as strange as the young man itself but she has always admired his artistic abilities but there’s something else and this volume reveals it.

Yet after they share an endearing night together, Hagu wakes up with no feeling in her hand and it frightens her to the point that she has Morita rush her back to the hospital. What they find is Hanamoto-sensei who lets Morita have it and I don’t mean verbally. While Hagu was away, Takemoto discovers that Hanamoto has already decided what he wants to do for Hagu and the decision is actually quite surprising, to say the least. The kindhearted professor was always watching out for Hagu and it becomes clear to Takemoto why although it is Morita who actually spells out it for everyone – and I mean everyone – to hear. Yamada’s reaction to Hanamoto’s declaration is priceless, by the way.

Meanwhile, Morita returns to his brother empty-handed since Hagu has already made her choice as to who she wants to be with and so the young man goes back to his brother who got his revenge from the man who ruined his family. However, Kaoru Morita isn’t completely heartless and does the man he just ruined a huge favor. Together with his brother, Shinobu makes a decision as to what to do with his life.

Finally, there’s Takemoto who has accepted all that just went on between Morita and the Professor. He has a brief yet memorable scuffle with Morita in the process but he makes it clear that he will remember their little confrontation fondly. As he packs his things and prepares to leave to join the crew of temple restorers he met during his little bike trip, he says farewell to his friend and – more importantly – to the tiny girl that changed his life forever. This is definitely one of those moments you need a hanky for and I have to admit that I needed more than one. Then again, beautifully written farewells always do it for me.

While the four final chapters are a bit on the short side, Chica Umino includes two bonus Honey and Clover stories and two original unrelated stories that are actually really good. In the bonus Honey stories, one has Takemoto, Mayama and Professor Hanamoto reflecting on one particular Valentine’s Day when Yamada and Hagu made them rock-hard scones. In the second bonus, Mayama and Hanamoto-sensei talk about dating parties and how Yamada ruins them as the two play a game of shogi.

The original stories were made for different publications and both are actually quite good while the other is just simply beautiful. In one story, a young girl who designs and sells her own handbags is reflecting on her relationship with her boyfriend who is beginning to take all she does for him for granted. Is it really love if she’s the only one making an effort? Perhaps, but she finds out the truth when her boyfriend comes back after he was thrown out of the apartment they share.

The second story is actually quite beautiful in that it tells the story of a human boy living in a planet composed of cute furry critters. Having been adopted by a couple, the boy is part of the community but still feels much like the outsider until the chance arrives for the boy to go to a space university. It is in the university that the boy meets another human for the first time and suddenly his life changes.

Volume 10 of Honey and Clover is a sweet and touching goodbye to a series we have certainly come to love and characters we have come to adore. As the characters come to realize the truth about themselves and love in general, the story’s final chapter becomes a proper closing that is not only surprising but just as endearing as the first chapter of this enjoyable instant classic. Thank you, Chica Umino, for such a lovely and unforgettable manga.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
Having run off with Morita, Hagu returns to the hospital where Hanamoto-sensei has come to a decision that will remove him from his job as a teacher. It becomes clear to Morita that there’s something more to the relationship between H and Hagu and accepts it. Meanwhile, after graduation, Takemoto bids an emotional farewell to his friends and Hagu. The volume also includes two Honey and Clover shorts as well as two original unrelated stories as well.

ART: A
The art has always been different from other shoujo manga and that is what makes this series so delightfully unique. Even the covers for this series are beautiful and lively like the characters featured in its pages.

OVERALL: A+
In the final volume of Honey and Clover, a fond farewell to friends that are moving on and the girl who changed the lives of everyone around her finally finds the strength to continue. Just as it was hard for the characters to say goodbye, the same can be said about us who will miss the story and these characters.

COMPLETE SERIES GRADE: A+
Not only is Honey and Clover one of the best shoujo manga series you will find out there but it is easily one of the best comics that transcends the genre and cultural differences. Chica Umino has brilliantly crafted a story with enough depth and feeling to makes the characters and story so believable and easy to love. We are so looking forward to Umino’s next manga series.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Initial D, Fourth Stage Part 2 – DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 280 minutes
Genre: Drama/Sports
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Will Project D finally meet its match?

The fourth season of Initial D is quickly becoming one of the series’ best seasons yet as Project D not only showcases what good teamwork can accomplish but also how to take advantage of those poor saps that underestimate your ride. In Part 2 of the Fourth Stage of Initial D, the crew find themselves in even more troublesome territory and opponents that might just have what it takes to put an end to Project D’s winning streak.

A lot has happened since Takumi Fujiwara joined Project D and his Eight-Six wasn’t the only one that turned heads at their various races. The very young man that wants to beat Takumi so badly is also winning races and Keisuke Takahashi’s skills have been improving. Thus, the legend of Project D’s best drivers is spreading across the various territories and many a racer is prepared to put an end to Project D’s amazing record. As Takumi finishes the race that was introduces in Part 1, his opponent comes to respect him and ask him a very important question.

Just what motivates Takumi to the point that he makes such daring and dangerous maneuvers that have his opponents thinking that he’s insane? This is the question that is asked of him and the answer is a bit unclear to the young man. What he does know is that he not only races to win but also because he loves it so much yet something is bothering him. The defeat by the mystery car has him wondering that maybe he isn’t as good as people tell him he is and when he sees the car again near his home the identity of the driver is revealed and it’s a shocker.

Keisuke‘s motivation, on the other hand, isn’t just proving to his brother, Ryosuke, that he’s a capable driver but he also wants to be good enough to beat Takumi. This determination drives the young man into ignoring things he deems unnecessary distractions … such as the cute girl, Kyoto, who continues to show up at his races. He’s a cold dude but Kyoto is the type of girl who doesn’t give up.

Meanwhile, Project D’s next opponents are shady racers who are confrontational from Day One and make it difficult for the crew. They don’t even allow them a chance to properly take some practice runs on their road but, when Keisuke does gets a chance to practice, the other crew spills some oil on the road that takes Keisuke’s ride out of the game. Interestingly enough, a replacement car comes from the very person Keisuke is trying to drive away. Despite the threat of violence, Takumi takes his Eight-Six and races.

Oh, but both Takumi and Keisuke show these jokers real driving in one of the more intense races of this series. Still, the real interesting part comes during the finale of the last race when the rival racers call up some thugs to beat up only for the confrontation to conclude in a hilarious manner. It’s clear that Keisuke’s bad boy days had him running with the wrong crowd.

Although he won the race, Takumi is in something of a slump that has him making mistakes during his practice runs on his home turf. He gets to test drive the mysterious blue car and finds himself amazed by the new set of wheels as well as a bit worried that his Eight-Six might not be enough to defeat a skilled racer. When the chance comes really prove himself comes, it comes in the form of two veteran drivers that have earned the nicknames God Arm and God Foot. Their race is nothing short of epic and to reveal any details would be to ruin it for Initial D fans.

Part 2 also brings back the series’ sense of humor and romance that was lost along the way when the series decided to concentrate on fast cars and the racing. In this second half we get both as we get a funny peek at Takumi’s friend, Itsuki, as he tries to rekindle a romance that quickly (and comically) fizzles. Then there’s Keisuke and Kyoto as their relationship, if you can call it that, takes an absorbing turn.

The Fourth Stage in its entirety is Initial D at its very best and Part 2 adds to the excitement by returning to the elements that made us fall in love with the series in the first place. On top of the fact that the racing is still intense, the series finds its sense of humor and romance once again. If you’ve been following this series from the beginning, Part 2 will not disappoint.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
With Project D proving that they’re indeed the stuff of legends, new territory opens up a number of challenges that will test Takumi and Keisuke’s skills behind the wheel. There’s some trouble in one spot and a pair of racing gods in another that will push the two to their very limits. Meanwhile, romance troubles and Takumi in a slump might spell the end of Project D’s impeccable record.

VIDEO QUALITY: B
The CG cars are still a tad awkward and the characters still look a bit funny for those who aren’t familiar with the Initial D manga but they work fine and the cars are still hot to watch in action. There’s more tension in this second part so racing fans will find a lot of visual candy in this one.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The English dub voices are still excellent and add more depth to the characters and some profanity missing in the original Japanese dialogue. Still, the Japanese voice cast is great and the soundtrack is still killer. The opening and closing theme songs do not fail to keep me pumped up.

EXTRAS: D
Once again, there aren’t any extras to speak of besides a few FUNimation trailers so those still expecting M.O.V.E. music videos won’t find them here.

OVERALL: A-
Part 2 of the Fourth Stage finds Project D going up against opponents that will give them a run for their money and thus making things even more exciting this time around as even Takumi begins to questions his skills. It’s good to see the series’ more comical and romantic side again but, more importantly, the racing action that is more intense. Initial D fans, this one is for you.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Sand Chronicles, Volume 7 – Manga Review

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

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

Are the sands of time running out for Ann?

The tired cliché of life being short is true but a lot does happen in that span of time and this is true even for Ann Minase as her life takes a sharp turn in a new direction. Hinako Ashihara has taken us through a lifetime of experiences and memories through Ann’s eyes and, in Volume 7, we continue to follow Ann as this realistic journey draws near towards the end in a truly deep and fascinating manner.

As Ann is reaching her Coming-of-Age ceremony (meaning she will be turning 20), Ann finds herself alone in the romance department. In the last volume, her brief fling with Fuji ended in a mutual agreement that they would never be happy together if Ann isn’t willing to forget Daigo. A few years passed since they parted ways but during a singles party with her friends – as fate would have it – she runs into Fuji again. Their encounter is definitely awkward but she learns that Fuji has moved on and is dating somebody that Ann got to meet.

Interestingly enough, Fuji gives Ann some of the best advice and (surprisingly) even encourages the girl to see Daigo seeing as their Junior High school reunion is coming up. Of all the people in her life, it is her ex-boyfriend that gives her positive encouragement to forget the past and work on the future. While Ann didn’t plan on going back to Shimane to attended the reunion, Fuji’s words convince her to go.

When she arrives, she can see that the lives of her friends in Shimane have also changed just like her Tokyo friends. People she never imagined would hook up are couples now and the skinny girl in her class is now rather plump but it is clear the Daigo is still very much the same guy she’s always known. On top of that, Daigo is no longer dating the girl that was once responsible for almost killing her when they were younger. With Daigo unattached, could there be a chance for them to rekindle their romance?

Without giving anything away, their reunion is an fascinating one and doesn’t go quite like Ann expected it to go as the young couple go for an amicable trip to a beach where the sand squeaks. It is there that Ann tries to reveal how she really feels but Daigo turns the tables on her and gives her some advice that will change Ann’s life and lead her down a path of confusion.

In the most interesting chapters of the volume, Ann – in her mid-20s now – finds herself confused about life and love. All around her, she sees that her Tokyo friends have found love and have families of their own. She finds some comfort in the words of a friend who was heartbroken over the breakup of her first love and is now getting married to the man that was really meant for her. Could the same happen for Ann? Could she find that somebody that would make her forget Daigo and Fuji and finally find the happiness she deserves?

Working a demanding job, Ann is physically drained but emotionally hardened to the point that she no longer cries and sees old self as weak. One day, riding a train back home (who she shared with her father, his wife and her half sister), Ann falls asleep on the shoulder of a handsome young executive named Keiichi. He’s not the most sweetest guy be he recognizes Ann’s new strength and the two start going out for a little while until Keiichi gets a job offer in the U.S. and makes a most startling offer to Ann.

In the final chapter, Ann’s decision and new relationship turns into something else as her grandmother begins to worry about her. It’s clear that our girl isn’t happy about the direction her life has taken her and her thoughts drift back to her mother and the place when she has taken her to see the world’s biggest hourglass. Something is not right with Ann and we won’t find out until the final volume.

Volume 7 of Sand Chronicles is a more dramatic turn of events for Ann as her life takes a turn in the wrong direction. You have to hand it to Ashihara who continues to take us on a journey that is the life of a girl as the series still continues to keep us glues to the pages of this powerful shoujo manga. We’ve been happy to follow this series and will definitely be there for Volume 8.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
Now in her twenties, Ann finds herself even more alone now that both Fuji and Daigo are not in her life. It isn’t until her school reunion that Ann and Daigo do meet again for a moment that will push Ann into a state of confusion. While the lives of her friends have changed, Ann’s loneliness leads her to some questionable decisions.

ART: A+
If you thought that Hinako Ashihara’s words convey much feeling and emotion, her art does the job as well and sometimes even better. Ann’s life is an emotional rollercoaster and the art shows that without even nary a word.

OVERALL: A
With her life heading in a downward spiral, Ann finds herself wondering if happiness is possible in Volume 7 of Sand Chronicles. This volume easily speaks to all of us who feel that life isn’t going in the direction we want and, for Ann, the future looks even more unclear now as the series is heading towards its finale.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Rental Magica, Part One – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: Nozomi Entertainment/RightStuf
MSRP: $49.99 US
Running Time: 525 minutes
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: 13+
Release Date: Available Now

My demonic eye sees an anime series that’s actually lots of fun.

There’s hardly ever a dull moment in Part One of Rental Magica and, while I’ve seen this type done before and characters that seem to have been ripped from other anime series, this series seems to know its target audience and attempts to make it a fun ride even for those who know the territory well. And this is what I love about Rental Magica, it’s a fun romp with romance, magic, supernatural elements and a good old-fashioned rivalry smack down … and this is just Part One.

First thing you’ll notice is that the four disc DVD box set (which also includes an awesome book) comes with the option of watching the series in its original televised broadcast order or you can watch the series in chronological order so the events of the episodes make more sense. For example, if you watched the broadcast order, you won’t know who that blonde mage riding a summoned demon in the first episode but if you watched the episodes in its chronological order you will know who she is when Episode 1 plays.

Rental Magica is the story of a Magical Recruitment Agency known as Astral that basically rents out mages to those who need their services (hence the title) and this particular agency is under new management. You see, High school student Itsuki Iba inherited Astral from is father after the older Iba went missing. Entrusted with the agency, Itsuki does his best to keep the company afloat. Thankfully, he has help from his childhood friend, Honami, who happens to be a Celtic witch. There’s also the cute Mikan, whose priestess magic is still at the amateur level but still strong enough for a girl her age. Finally, there’s the cat-loving Ren who has the ability to summon shinigami and Minami, a girl with a secret we won’t reveal here.

While he may appear helpless and weak, Itsuki has a secret weapon hiding behind his eye patch. You see, a childhood encounter with a dark supernatural presence has given him a demonic eye that possesses the power to give the young man strength and the ability to see a weakness in any entity. The problem is that using it might lead to some very negative consequences. Still, Itsuki tries his best not to get in the way of his fellow Astral employees and gains not only their respect but they even love him.

In the course of doing their job, Astral must deal with the competition with a major one – run but an attractive English blonde named Adelicia – that tries to get all of Astral’s job contracts. Adelicia starts off as a cold young magic user but very quickly comes to like Itsuki to the point that she actually develops something of a crush on him … to Honami’s annoyance. Part of the fun of the series is watching Adelicia and Honami compete over Itsuki since both girls like him.

The episodes follow Itsuki and Astral taking on various jobs that include helping a priestess help her possessed brother and in another they’re helping a girl whose grandfather might have been spirited away. The group even accepts a job returning a doll to a family shrine only to trap Itsuki and Minami in another dimension where a fisherman from the past is trapped and hungry mermaids await to devour them.

Still, the best episodes are those that find Itsuki go from insecure President of the agency to a President who will stand alongside his friends and keep the agency running. The series also fleshes out the characters by way of flashback story arcs that have us understanding Itsuki and Honami’s relationship as well as her relationship with Adelicia. We get a look back into how Itsuki met Minami after he broke his leg during one assignment and the secret behind this girl is revealed. It isn’t until we finally get to know the cast of characters that the story really gets going and finds Astral going up against a man very familiar with the agency. He even sends a Homunculus to do his dirty work.

The series never really gets too technical or serious for very long and much of the humor is good enough to keep the tone lively and enjoyable. It’s a real hoot to see Adelicia and Honami’s competition in one episode turn a mini vacation into a nightmare. There’s even a Christmas episode and, yes, a trip to the beach and a hot springs.

Part One of Rental Magica might seem like a by-the-numbers anime story that we’ve all seen before and even the genre and characters will feel familiar to those who know the genre well. That said, Rental Magica is still good fun that rarely fails in entertaining you and there are moments that will have you glad you picked this box set up anyway. It’s hard to dismiss a series like this since the characters are likeable and many of the situations featured in the episodes are charming enough to leave you smiling. It’s a good series that isn’t afraid to have some fun.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Inheriting his father’s Mage-for-hire agency called Astral, young Itsuki Iba takes on various jobs of the supernatural variety with his youthful crew of talented magic users. As Itsuki tries to keep the company afloat, he leads his youthful employees through a number of jobs that involve everything from a Basilisk to man-eating mermaids.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation isn’t anything to write home about but the action is particularly striking and the characters are as diverse as the supernatural threatens seen in each episode. Nozomi Entertainment does a brilliant job bringing us a crisp and colorful episodes on four DVDs.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
There are no English dub voices but who cares when the Japanese voice cast handles their characters with enough energy to make the dialogue work. The score by Takanori Eguchi and Jun Ichikawa is excellent and opening theme song is great but we are very partial to the closing song, “Aruiteiko” sung by Jungo Yoshida.

EXTRAS: A+
Never mind the trailers and the clean opening and closing theme songs, there’s a fun Character Bio feature but the best stuff you’ll find on the 128-soft cover book that contains an episode guide, character facts, interviews and chapters covering the supernatural and magical elements featured in each episode. This is definitely worth the read. Another great extra is the fact that you can watch the series in the TV broadcast or chronological order.

OVERALL: B+
An entertaining and enjoyable anime series, Rental Magica doesn’t offer anything new but it still remains to be a blast to watch either way and the characters won’t fail to grow on you. Part One delivers enough good episodes to make us excited about Part Two. This series is certainly worth checking out if you’re looking for a fun yet familiar anime series.

Review copy provided by Nozomi Entertainment/RightStuf