RIN-NE, Volume 3 – Manga Review

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Rumiko Takahashi
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Sunday)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Love is in the air and exorcisms will never be the same again.

If you’ve read our reviews of past Rumiko Takahashi titles, you know we have a sort of fanatical love for the manga-ka who gave life to Inuyasha among so many other favorites that make up her extraordinary career. We add one more to our list of favorites as VIZ Media brings us the RIN-NE series about a young exorcist juggling school, poverty and his wandering spirits looking to move on. In Volume 3, our young friend discovers that he’s not the only exorcist in town.

In the first two volumes of the series, we met Rinne Rokudo who, on top of being a penniless High school student, also happens to be an exorcist that helps ease spirits into reincarnation (thanks to his Wheel of Reincarnation) or eternal rest. You see, Rinne also happens to be a human Shinigami,a sort of Death God, but the mystery of his true nature is still yet to be truly revealed. Along with fellow classmate, the attractive Sakura Mamiya (who was able to see spirits since early childhood), they’ve been exorcising spirits together.

Then again, as we can see from Volume 3, this is about to change with the entrance of a young exorcist who tosses scared ashes at Rinne and a friendly spirit that the Rinne is trying to exorcise peacefully. Surprisingly enough, the same young exorcist shows up at class as a new transfer student named Tsubasa Jumonji but even more surprising is the fact that he knows Sakura. In fact, he claims he has fallen in love with her since grade school where they met during a school field trip. Seeing as Sakura can see and communicate with the dead, Tsubasa sees them as a perfect match so he bluntly asks her out.

Rinne, on the other hand, doesn’t find Tsubasa all that likeable. On top of the fact that he confused him as a spirit, Tsubasa’s unfriendly approach at putting a spirit to rest annoys Rinne. You see, the friendly spirit cannot pass on because he died before he could even muster the courage to ask a classmate out on a date. Luckily, said classmate is a friend of Sakura and they set up a double date only Sakura is talked into going on the date with Tsubasa.

Interestingly enough, Rinne seems a tad miffed by Sakura and Tsubasa’s “date” and decides to ask out a classmate so he could watch over the spirit … or perhaps even Sakura. While he says he’s not interested in dating or Sakura, the cute black cat, Rokumon, thinks differently. Even Sakura sees that Rinne isn’t comfortable with having Tsubasa around but at least the date worked out and the spirit of the young student finds peace.

In another supernatural case, Rinne finds out that there’s a huge reward for the cleansing of a most unusual-looking evil spirit. Deciding to take the case, Rinne also makes another discovery, a spirit has been going nuts in the school halls and bathrooms leaving handprints everywhere. It seems that the legendary ghost called Hanako of the Toilet is angry and that anger is directed at Tsubasa who tried to exorcise her and failed. Now, she has found an ally in the giant evil spirit that Rinne is trying to cleanse for the reward money. Things get very interesting as Rinne reveals a bit more about his Shinigami side.

After that, a spirit makes his appearance during the school festival and turns his attention of one of Sakura’s classmates. When other girls start disappearing, however, Rinne and Tsubasa start looking into what may be going on until they meet another spirit with a pumpkin for a head. It seems that this mystery pretty boy stole the pumpkin head’s face to lure girls into a dimension that is the crossroads between the living world and the realm of the dead. In order to face off against the culprit, Rinne goes as far as disguising himself and setting a foolproof plan to reach this other dimension. This is one of the funniest chapters in this volume that you just have to see for yourself.

In the final chapter, a faceless female entity is haunting the art club and asking the boys in the club to draw her. However, dissatisfied when the art students aren’t able to draw her face, she slaps a coat a paint on them. Looking into the case, Rinne, Sakura and Tsubasa try to unravel the mystery behind the entity and its connection to the art club’s president.

Once again, Rumiko Takahashi does not fail to grab her reader’s attention from the very start and doesn’t let it go until the final page. You can count RIN-NE as yet another brilliant piece of work as we can see from Volume 3 and you can bet we will be following this one very closely. If you’re looking for yet another Takahashi manga title filled with her brand of amazing storytelling, charming art and genuinely likeable humor, give this series a try.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
There’s a new transfer student and his name is Tsubasa Jumonji who just happens to have known Sakura a long time ago. As it turns out, though, Tsubasa is an exorcist with a less than graceful style performing exorcisms and quickly gets under the skin of Rinne who suddenly finds himself wondering if he might have some feeling for Sakura. Watching these two butt heads while trying to help a few spirits who keep showing up at the school.

ART: A+
Rumiko Takahashi’s art has always been reliably charming, nicely detailed and original and it no different when it comes to RIN-NE. It’s no wonder we love her work so much.

OVERALL: A
Volume 3 of RIN-NE introduces a new character and rival in the life of the Shinigami named Rinne and thus complicates things in the best way possible. Love seems to be the theme of this volume as some characters – both the living and the dead – try to make sense of their feelings.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Initial D, First Stage Part 1 – DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Drama/Sports
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

This is where the legend of the Eight-Six really begins.

As a car enthusiast, the Initial D series has always been on the top of my favorite anime and manga series of all time and FUNimation has certainly done right by fans of the anime with the release of the remaining seasons. The only thing missing, of course, was the first season and – thankfully – it is finally here and it is looking as sharp Takumi’s Eight-Six as Part 1 of the First Stage of Initial D is here and just as good as I remembered it.

The First Stage introduces us to Takumi Fujiwara, a local Mount Akina resident and High school student, who happens to work at a gas station. While his friend, Itsuki, dreams of buying his first car, Takumi doesn’t really care about cars or driving seeing he does plenty of that for his father as a tofu delivery driver. It is his friend and gas station co-worker, Iketani, who convinces Takumi to tag along to the winding roads of Akina to a street race.

While Takumi isn’t too thrilled about the races or being in a fast car, he can see that racing is a serious game. Iketani, you see, is a member of his own little crew and one night they meet the founding members of another racing crew that goes by the name the Akagi Red Suns that is made up of two brothers, Ryosuke and his younger brother Keisuke. While Ryosuke is the calm one who thinks it might be fun to race with new opponents, it is Keisuke who is determined to go for the glory.

Then, one night, as Takumi is making his nightly delivery runs in his father’s customized Eight-Six, he encounter Keisuke on the road and beats him in a downhill challenge. Furious that he lost to such a mysterious and skilled opponent, Keisuke goes on a quest to find and challenge the Eight-Six again and when Iketani crashes his ride he gets what he gets his wish.

Unfortunately, Takumi still isn’t interested in racing but he is interested in taking the cute Natsuki out on a date so his father proposes that he go race Keisuke in exchange for letting Takumi take the car out with a full tank of gas. With a date on the line, Takumi does race and what happens after that changes Takumi’s life. It is then that the legend of the Eight-Six begins and rumors of Keisuke’s defeat becomes big news among other racing crews.

As it turns out, all those delivers have taught Takumi how to handle himself on the Eight-Six but his friends feel that his skills are abnormal. For a guy who doesn’t know much about cars or is interested in racing, Takumi’s skills are too well honed for the guy not to like racing. This is what Keisuke tells the younger racer as he swears to one day beat Takumi in a race. Meanwhile, challengers start appearing such a the leader of a crew called the Night Kids. Unfortunately for Takumi, his friend Itsuki is the one that accepts the challenge without Takumi’s knowledge.

Forced to race once again, Takumi proves that he is not only a master of downhill drifting but he can nail hairpin turns flawlessly. Meanwhile, the Night Kid’s second best racers issues a challenge that could very well lead to somebody dying. It’s the Gum Tape Deathmatch challenge where each racer’s right hand is taped to the steering wheel. Takumi is good but is he good enough to survive a challenge like that?

Part 1 ends in one hell of a cliffhanger and sets up the second part nicely but what we have here is a story that pushes the racing action and character development nicely. If you’ve read our reviews of past Initial D releases I often look back at the lack of humor and the likeable romantic elements of this season. The truth is that both these things really do make the first season so darn fun to watch whether its watching Itsuki horribly ruin his chances for romance or Takumi and Natsuki’s budding romance.

The first season does look a tad on the dated side but FUNimation does a good job of restoring TOKYOPOP’s original release. On top of that, the English dub voices that include the talents of Brina Palencia, Joel McDonald, Todd Haberkorn and Vic Mignogna are excellent.

Part 1 of the First Stage of Initial D is an excellent first entry and a thrilling racing anime series that – like Takumi’s Eight-Six itself – doesn’t fail to impress. The first season is also one of the best seeing as the humor, romance and exciting racing makes this the perfect package and a great introduction to this series. If you haven’t checked out Initial D before, this is the perfect opportunity.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
Takumi Fujiwara has never really thought much about cars but having been suddenly thrown into the street racing scene he discovers that he has a talent driving his father’s Eight-Six to the point that he quickly makes a name for himself. As Takumi’s legend grows, so does the number of challengers that come to Akina to race him.

VIDEO QUALITY: B-
Seeing this is the first season, the animation is a bit on the dated side and so is the CG that makes the cars look a tad clunky and unnatural at times. Thankfully, the series still looks good on DVD.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The soundtrack for the Initial D series has always been consistently good throughout the anime series’ seasons and I’m not just talking about the opening and closing theme songs. Add a top notch cast of voice actors for both the original Japanese and English voice actors and we have ourselves a series with great sound.

EXTRAS: D
Once again, we would have loved the actual M.O.V.E. music videos to the songs that make up the opening and closing theme songs. At least you can watch them sans the credits, though. There are also some trailers and nothing else.

OVERALL: A
The First Stage of Initial D is where the legend is born and the first 13 episodes that will make an Initial D fan out of you guaranteed. Not only is the first half of this first season filled with hot cars and intense racing action but also a charming sense of humor and some romance thrown in to make this the start of an anime series that has everything for everyone.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Linebarrels of Iron, Part 1 – DVD Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

You’re despicable, Kouichi, but this show certainly isn’t.

Kouichi Hayase is the kind of guy you would will not like nor will you cheer for him. In fact, he is actually – as a character will reminded you in almost every episode – a despicable person.

However, people change and, in Linebarrels of Iron, Kouichi does just that but not after we are subjected to his despicable personality. You see, Kouichi Hayase is a Junior high student who has been picked on by the same three bullies that made his childhood a living hell. As always, his childhood friend named Yajima would step in and defend him. Embarrassingly enough, so does his female friend (and love interest) named Risako.

One day, while fetching treats for the bullies, an Arma (an armored mech) called Linebarrel drops from the sky and literally lands on Kouichi. When he wakes up, the boy finds himself laying next to a mysterious and beautiful naked girl. He takes said girl back home with him and while she doesn’t remember her name at first, her memories come flooding into her mind. She is Emi Kizaki and she and Linebarrel are connected. Interestingly enough, Linebarrel is now connected to Kouichi as well.

It is because of this connection, Kouichi discovers that he has powers as well as the ability to summon and operate Linebarrel. Having always had the childhood dream of being an “ally of justice,” Kouichi says he is out to protect the innocent but instead flaunts the power while not caring about the destruction he leaves behind. On top of using Linebarrel, he even discovers he has great strength and proves it by beating up the bullies. Sadly, he even becomes cold and bitter towards his friend Yajima who just wants to understand the changes his friend is going through.

Unfortunately, a group has had their eye on Linebarrel and sends Armas to capture it but with Kouichi operating it he displays his true potential in using Linebarrel. He discovers that another group wants Linebarrel as well but to keep it safe. They are the JUDA Corporation and their Arma operators try to convince Kouichi to join with them before he causes too much destruction. In the end, it takes a tragedy to make the boy realize he’s no champion of justice but a jerk with newfound power.

With Emi’s memory returning, she joins the members of the JUDA Corporation and so does Kouichi who is now determined to make up for his earlier turn as Linebarrel’s operator. We meet the members of JUDA such as the hilarious President of the corporation and the operators of various Armas. This is where the series truly changes from grim and dramatic to action-packed and fun. A running gag in this half of the series has Kouichi getting into a number of misunderstandings with Emi who sees him as a disgusting pervert.

Kouichi actually finds his true calling among the members of JUDA and realizes that there’s a true threat to fight such as the Katou Organization led by a man named Hisataka Katou who shares a very interesting secret with Emi. Katou wants Linebarrels for a reason and it is to see the world burn for reasons he does not quite disclose. He’s not alone either because he has agents who know how to handle themselves using their Armas. At one point, he even pays Kouichi a visit in the JUDA Corporation offices to try to persuade him to join them.

There are battles aplenty in Linebarrels of Iron and many a truly dramatic moment as Kouichi and his comrades try to keep the Kotou group from carrying out their plans to destroy the world including an exciting moment in space as Kouichi and a teammate try to keep a satellite from destroying Earth.

Thankfully, there are plenty of comical and fun moments as well in this series and that keeps the series lively enough that you will come to like all the rest of the characters. The series goes through the usual anime essentials such as a Christmas episode and even a trip to the beach. There’s a cute love triangle as well between Kouichi, Emi and Risako. Some of the best moments come when Risako clashes with Emi because the school girl is jealous of the time she spends with Kouichi.

Despite a grim and unflattering first few episodes, Linebarrels of Iron gets better and a lot more appealing as the series gets more exciting and more fun. Sure, Kouichi doesn’t make a great first impression but once the series takes off you will find yourself enjoying the action, likeable characters and the change of a jerk who becomes Earth’s best champion. We definitely cannot wait for the second part to this series.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B-
Kouichi has always been the weak kid who has been the target of bullies since grade school but when a mech called Linebarrel and a beautiful naked girl named Eri lands on him the boy who was picked on becomes a powerful force for justice. Unfortunately, his quest for justice becomes a greedy need to show he’s not weak … until he joins an organization that finally shows him the path to true justice.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
The animation looks decent enough and looks as close to the original manga as it could get and that’s a very good thing. Really, the series looks great on DVD. The series contains plenty of fan service and that means nudity … thus the TV MA rating.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The original Japanese voices are the best way to watch this series but, then again, the English dub does a great job with better dialogue. Plus Josh Grelle does a great job as Kouichi. On the music front, the score is decent but the opening theme is an acquired taste.

EXTRAS: B+
The first disc includes an audio commentary track for Episode 6 featuring ADR Director Caitlyn Glass, Alexis Tipton (who voices Emi) and Josh Grelle (who is the voice of Kouichi) that’s is actually fun to listen to thanks to their lively energy. The first disc also includes the music video for the song “Proud” while the second disc a promotional video, the original Japanese TV spot, the textless opening and closing songs and a few FUNimation trailers.

OVERALL: B-
While the hero won’t win you over until the middle of Part 1, Linebarrels of Iron is still an intriguing and action-packed series with a good sense of humor. Sadly, the first four episodes doesn’t do the rest of the series justice but if you give this one a chance you will be pleasantly surprised. By the end, you will definitely find yourself looking forward to the next season.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

One Piece, Volume 27 – Manga Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Eiichiro Oda
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

The war for Skypiea has begun and the Straw Hat pirates are caught in the middle.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, One Piece is just one of those manga series that casts a most unusual spell on its readers because the more unusual the story gets the more we find ourselves loving the series even more. We’ve seen the Straw Hat pirates in a number of unusual scenarios and met many a strange character but that’s what makes us love this original manga series. Volume 27 is proof of this as the Skypiea story arc gets exciting in true One Piece fashion.

Having pushed into the forbidden island within Skypiea, the Straw Hats discover that the forest happens to house a person that the people of the island in the sky consider a God or “Kami.” Split up from the others, Luffy, Usopp and Sanji enter the dark territory where they discover that they have a choice as to what challenges they will get to go through first and find out that – while it sounded fun – the Ball Challenge became a battle for survival.

As it turns out, one of the Skypiea’s Vassals, Satori of the Forest, can manipulate numerous balloon-like balls that contain deadly surprises when they burst. One ball contained fire while another contained sharp knives as all three Straw Hats not only try to fight back but catch up to the boat they came on when they entered the forest. Satori is one of the more troublesome foes the Straw Hats have faced off against since Crocodile and he does a number of Sanji at one point. However, together the Straw Hats are a powerful force and come to recognize Satori’s weakness.

Meanwhile, Chopper is left to care for the Going Merry when another Vassal makes his appearance. This one is “Sky Rider” Shura who resembles the Sky Knight they met when the Straw Hats reached Skypiea via the Knock Up Stream. Speaking of the Sky Knight, Chopper blows the whistle the Knight had given him so he could come to their aid and off the old man goes while Chopper tries to stay alive in the meantime. Shura is a mean foe but when the Sky Knight arrives it becomes an aerial battle with the two flying atop their strange bird-like steeds. The outcome is an awesome battle you really have to see for yourself and the Sky Knight taking a nasty tumble.

Not far from the Going Merry is Nami, Zolo and Nico Robin who wandered deeper into the forest as Nami makes an interesting discovery she waits to reveal when they’re back together. When they make a return to the ship, they find the Going Merry in a damaged state and Chopper trying to save the Sky Knight’s life. Luffy and his two companions also find the ship and their friends and each member shares what they learned so far.

As it turns out, Skypiea has a very interesting secret concerning the forbidden island forest area that seems to prove that Noland the Liar was on the right track. If that part of the story was true then maybe so is the story about El Dorado. Doing her own bit or research, Nami comes up with what might have led to the appearance of the forest and the gold that awaits them in an area in this part of the island.

It is the Sky Knight who confirms that truth about Skypiea as well as what is going on between the Kami and the guerilla warriors they met since they arrived. We finally get to see the guerilla as they begin their battle to kick the Kami off the island. While I won’t get too much into their story since doing so will reveal a big part of the island’s secret, I will say that these people have a name and they are the Shandians who are fighting for a true purpose.

We also get to meet the Kami and the rest of Skypiea’s Vassals who have gathered to prepare themselves to not only defeat the Shandians but take down the Straw Hats that has so soundly defeated one of their own in battle. The rest of the island, the Kami says, is open to all and the true challenges are now available so you can bet the Straw Hats are in for some tough times ahead.

Volume 27 of One Piece is a strange and exciting turn of events for the Straw Hats as the situation in Skypiea gets violent. As the enemy is revealed and a secret about the island itself is revealed, the fight to reach the Kami is just beginning and you will not want to miss what happens next. Once again, Oda-Sensei, you continue to amaze us.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
Luffy, Usopp and Sanji’s battle with one of the four Skypiea Vassals shows the Straw Hats that the island in the sky’s forbidden forest landscape contains some of the more deadliest foes they have faced so far. Meanwhile, Nami makes a most interesting discovery about that part of Skypiea as the guerillas begin their war to take down the “god” of the island.

ART: A+
Eiichiro Oda continues to push his art to a whole new level of coolness and his brand of unusual characters and settings that just keep getting even more outrageous in the Skypiea story arc.

OVERALL: A
Skypiea is ablaze with violence as the Straw Hats pirates find themselves in the middle of yet another civil war as they discover the secret of the island in the sky in Volume 27 of One Piece. Eiichiro Oda does a great job of setting up the story but when he finally gets the ball rolling you can bet he will not fail to keep you hooked to the very end.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Full Metal Panic!, The Complete Series – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: Blu-ray: $54.98 US; DVD: $49.98 US
Running Time: 600 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Definitely not just another mech series.

Having been a fan of the Full Metal Panic! series since it came to our side of the pond, news that FUNimation was packaging the complete series on Blu-ray was good news indeed. If you know the series as well as I do you know why The Complete Series of Full Metal Panic! is reason to celebrate. Taking us to the very beginning of the series, these 24 episodes introduces us to a High school girl with a most unusual gift and a strange new transfer student who has sworn to protect her.

Somewhere in a fictionalized and future Russia, a young girl runs for her life as attack choppers pursue her. It is clear that the interested party chasing said girl wants her badly and just when things begin to go sour, a mech steps in to defend the girl. In another part of the world – Japan, to be exact – an attractive and spunky High school girl named Kaname Chidori has no idea that she too is a target of a secret organization hell-bent on locating girls just like Chidori. These girls are known as Whispered and they possess a most unusual and beneficial power.

Enter the mercenary group known as Mithril that has advanced technology and a lot of money at their disposal that has been hired to protect Whispered candidates like Chidori. Among their seasoned professionals like pretty boy sniper Kurz Weber and the beer-guzzling babe Melissa Mao is 16-year old Sousuke Sagara whose military career began as a child soldier in an Afghanistan-inspired country. Sousuke’s mission is to secretly protect Chidori … a job he, unfortunately, takes way too seriously.

In fact, his gung-ho attitude immediately annoys Chidori who sees Sousuke’s arrival to her High school as a new transfer student as the beginning of her misery. Half the fun of watching this series is relishing in Sousuke’s countless misunderstandings that annoy Chidori or the extreme manner in which he jumps to the wrong conclusion when it comes to identifying actual threats. Seen as a military freak by everyone around him, Sousuke comically pulls out weapon after weapon with students and faculty believing his weapons are toys.

As it turns out, though, Chidori’s life is in danger as the secret group that is seeking out Whispered candidates have locked on to Chidori. This group hires a deadly psychopath named Gauron who is a mercenary with an impressive record as well as the ability to pilot a certain mechs (also called ARM Slaves or just AN). It isn’t until a class trip turns into a plan hijacking that Chidori realizes there’s more to Sousuke than meets the eye. Taken to a hidden lab during the ordeal, Chidori also comes to learn that she is a Whispered whose ability is to see in her mind’s eye a great deal of information pertaining to military technology.

In the second half of the series, Chidori finds herself accepting that she is a target and that Sousuke is a Mithril soldier who is protecting her. Still, this doesn’t stop her from being annoyed with the young man but also coming to care for him as well in a slightly romantic sense. Chidori isn’t alone in having feeling for the young man when they both meet the 16-year old Captain of Mithril’s advanced submarine codenamed the Toy Box. She is Teletha Testarossa and, despite her age, she is a respected Captain and Sousuke’s superior officer who falls hard for her subordinate to the point that she considers herself Chidori’s rival in love. Another great part about the series is the cute rivalry between the two girls and the Captain’s schoolgirl-like crush that makes her act funny around Sousuke.

As cute and funny as many of the may be there is also a dark and edgy feel to the series as well that is made up of the bloody action sequences. As I mention, Gauron is a psychopath and his sadistic streak is very evident as he not only kills other mercenaries without flinching but also anyone who might annoy him as well and that includes his employers. He has a connection to Sousuke that is revealed and the two fight it out a few times throughout the series.

Another aspect of the series that works are the characters that you can’t help but like immediately whether it’s the charming flirty that is Weber (voiced in the English dub with much gusto by Vic Mignogna) that keeps getting knocked around by the likeable Melissa Mao or the two distinct personalities that are Sousuke and Chidori. Even their classmates actually add something to the story. Even if you’re not a fan of mech shows, Full Metal Panic! doesn’t push the mech battles in a tiresome way like in some anime series.

The Complete Series of Full Metal Panic is just too good to miss in any format but if you have been looking for a Blu-ray set that deserves your money then this is the series you have been waiting for … trust me. A blast to watch from start to finish, anime like this is just too hard to pass up and even more so if you’re an action-junkie like myself. Filled with action and topped off with fun comedic moments, Full Metal Panic is a classic in its own way that will very quickly make a fan out of you.

BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Possessing a power she has not control over or does not understand, Kaname Chidori becomes the target of terrorists and other shadowy figures. Fortunately, a mercenary group called Mithril sends a young gung-ho soldier named Sousuke to watch over her as a new transfer student at her school.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
While not the most visually stunning anime out there, the series does have spectacular fight scenes and bloody action. Even better, the series looks particularly better on Blu-ray so this is the format fans new and old should definitely consider.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
For my money, the Japanese voice cast is at the top of their game and the best way to watch the series. Then again, the English dub voice cast does a stellar job.

EXTRAS: B+
The extras come in the form of Japanese piracy warnings, twelve of them featuring the Japanese voice cast voicing their characters perspective characters. There is also the clean opening and closing theme songs as well as the original television commercials for the series. Plus, there are some FUNimation trailers but very little else.

OVERALL: A+
There are some Complete Series collections you have to own and then there’s the Blu-ray release of Full Metal Panic! that you NEED to own. Sure, there are many military-styled mech anime shows out there but none have the raw action-packed punch, comedic wit and great storytelling of this series. If you’ve never checked this series out, now is the time to pick it up.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Gente, Volume 1 – 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

Yet another serving of la dolce vita in the Casetta dell’Orso.

As I said before when I reviewed Natsume Ono’s different-yet-tasty shoujo offering, Ristorante Paradiso, I have a healthy appetite for the traditional but also a serving of something that’s uncommon. Volume 1 of Gente is like a breath of fresh air for the genre and a delectable prequel to a manga that was easy to pick up but hard to put down. Let’s just say that I had fun sampling this story.

Gente takes place before the events seen in Ristorante Paradiso and re-introduces us to the sexy gentlemen waiters of the Casetta dell’Orso before the lovely little restaurant opened. As I mentioned above, the story serves as something of a prequel as we find Lorenzo tending to his wife, Olga, who is in the hospital for anemia. As we saw in the Ristorante, Lorenzo is a kind man who has always been accommodating to his wife’s needs as well as her fondness for older gentlemen.

In fact, he often takes his wife to a nice little cantina because Olga is utterly fascinated by the barista who – according to the establishment’s owner – is no longer working there. However, Lorenzo has a lead as to where he could find him and there’s a reason for this … he wants the handsome gentleman to work for him at his new restaurant that he calls the Casetta dell’Orso. His idea is to have a restaurant where all the staff are older gentlemen who – upon his wife’s request – would wear glasses.

One of these gentlemen is Luciano de Luca, a handsome older man who happens to have been the barista that Olga found fascinating. Lorenzo offers him a position as a cameriere (a waiter) in his new place but Luciano kindly declines mainly because he is currently enjoying a schedule that allows him to watch over his cute grandson, Franc. While it might not appear this way, Luciano enjoys caring for the boy when his daughter goes out with her husband but the thought of being a waiter again is far too appealing to turn down so he does accept.

In the chapter, Luciano begins working in Casetta dell’Orso as the current kitchen staff begins to understand the appeal of a restaurant with older gentleman on staff. He watches as the young chef of the establishment quits with a promise to return when his eye go bad with old age. Luciano also sees how the restaurant starts becoming appealing to women, especially one regular who takes a liking to him that she hands him tickets to a classical music concert as well as an open invitation to attend the concert with her.

One chapter finds a neglected wife of a philandering husband turn to Olga, who happens to be a lawyer, for a possible divorce when she discovers a few things about love when she hangs out with Olga and her friend. She also finds herself enjoying the company of Gigi, another waiter from Casetta dell’Orso who happens to know a lot about wine. The result of his wife going somewhere with another man somehow makes the cheating husband realize that it doesn’t feel good when the role is reversed.

We also get to know the playboy named Vito who – we know from Ristorante Paradiso – is married to a college girl. It is here were we get to see how he met the young woman who not only goes to the same gym as him but is charming enough that the ladies man sees her in an entirely different light. We learn that the young woman has a sister who is in an abusive relationship and suddenly comes to realize that Vito is the type of man who would never hit a woman or treat her badly.

Gente takes us through the party celebrating the restaurant’s opening as well as catch a glimpse of the divorced Claudio who is in good terms with his ex-wife that just so happens to be friends with Olga. Still, Claudio makes the best as part of the kitchen staff. As one of their own retires from the kitchen and becomes a regular, the new chef might not be a very social person but he does make the best dolce in Rome.

Like a fine wine that accompanies a satisfying meal, Gente might not be as surprisingly fulfilling as the first story but it does leave a good taste in your mouth after you finish. It’s characters are still wonderfully handled and the art is different and different is definitely good. I just wish the stories in this volume contained some of the sweetness and humor of Ristorante Paradiso.

A delightfully enchanting and beautifully written story, Volume 1 of Gente is a manga that even North American comic readers can really sink their teeth into and enjoy the exotic flavor of the story. Filled with great characters, elegant dialogue and decent artwork, Natsume Ono brings us yet another great manga story you should definitely not miss.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
In this prequel to Ristorante Paradiso, Lorenzo first opens Casetta dell’Orso as well as selects the older gentlemen that makes up the staff that turns this quaint little eatery into something of a sensation with women. We also catch a glimpse of the lives of the gentlemen themselves.

ART: B-
Natsume Ono’s artwork isn’t the most elaborate nor is it incredibly detailed but it is original and if you’re a fan of her work you can definitely recognize her artwork immediately.

OVERALL: A
Once again, Natsume Ono continues to impress with her brilliant storytelling that made Ristorante Paradiso such a rare and wonderful manga gem. Gente is not only great manga but a great piece of literature that deserves to be read. This one definitely deserves to be among your collection.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

One Piece, Season Three First Voyage – DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 325 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

The dreams of pirates will never die.

One Piece fans who have been watching the series since the Season One probably already know the opening speech by the pirate who started the quest for the legendary “one piece.” In the First Voyage of Season Three, we find that the new generation of pirates have lost sight of the vision the old King of the Pirates had but there are also pirates that continue believing in the dream as they travel on to a mythical island.

While the Seventh Voyage of Season Two consisted of filler episodes, the First Voyage brings us back to business as the Straw Hats continue on their journey when a ship comes crashing down from above. As the fragmented pieces of the ship all around the Going Merry, the skeletal remains of the fallen ship and some of their treasure falls aboard the Straw Hat’s ship. Piecing these clues together, Nico Robin believes that the ship must have come from a rumored island in the skies. It must be true because Nami’s Log Pose is pointing skyward.

To investigate Nico’s claim, Luffy, Sanji and Zoro go underwater to find further clues from the ship’s remains only to get interrupted by a massive vessel captained by a monkey-man named Masira. As it turns out, Masira is a salvager and this part of the sea is his territory so he sees the Straw Hats as intruders but, strangely enough, the big ape is charming enough to find the crew of the Going Merry likeable enough. While Masira’s arrival was a distraction, Luffy does manage to find a map that leads to an island in the sky called Skypia. The rumors might actually be all true.

So, determined to go to Skypia, the Straw Hats find themselves heading for the nearby island of Jaya for more information on Skypia. One in the port town of Mock Town, the crew discovers that the place is filled with pirates from all walks of life. One of the nastiest pirates in Mock Town happens to be Bellamy the Hyena who has a huge bounty on his head. As the Straw Hats are about to find out, Bellamy and his crew of pirates are nothing but trouble. Unfortunately for Luffy, Nami and Sanji, they run into Bellamy while asking about Skypia at a local bar.

Interestingly enough, Luffy keeps his promise to Nami not to fight until they find out more about Skypia. The result of that decision is that Sanji and Luffy get beat up badly by the pirate captain. Even more interesting, however, is the strange man they met in the bar before the brawl sitting outside with words that are actually encouraging. He believes that Bellamy is wrong about the new age of pirates forgetting about dreams. Dreams will never die and will lead those who have them to something far greater. It is the new pirates that have forgotten this.

As it turns out, the stranger is right as pirates from all over begin to gather and that includes some familiar faces such as Buggy the Clown and Red-Haired Shanks just to name a few. The meeting also finds the remaining Warlords who are trying to decide who should replace Crocodile after his defeat in Alabasta by the Straw Hats that are now considered a threat. Meanwhile, back in Mock Town, we discover the identity of the famous pirate named Blackbeard.

The Straw Hat’s only lead takes them to the home of a man named Mont Blanc Cricket who is connected to the legend of Noland the Liar who tells a story of great treasure and the island in the sky. The only problem is that he is seen as a liar and Cricket is spending his days trying to prove that his ancestor was no liar. With the help of his friends, who turns out to be the monkey brothers, Masira and Shojo, the three help the Straw Hats prepare to enter Skypia via a massive stream of water called the Knock Up Stream to take them there.

Unfortunately, Bellamy finds Cricket and his friends and beats them to a bloody mess and Luffy – in one of his finest moments – heads back to Mock Town to get revenge. Things get more interesting as the Straw Hats, with their modified ship, use the Knock Up Stream to head to Skypia. The place is interesting right off the bat as they meet an elderly knight atop of a strange spotted Pegasus that’s actually a bird, a crazy native and a woman who tells them the entrance fee to Skypia is very hefty.

Still, they travel on where they meet a cute girl names Conis and her father who tells them everything about Skypia that is filled with an ocean of clouds, citizens that look like angels and technology far more advanced than they have seen below. Naturally, trouble has a way of finding the Straw Hats as Nami – enjoying a ride on a watercraft called a Waver – encounter a forbidden island. Meanwhile, the Skypia authorities are after the Straw Hats for not paying the entrance fee.

Season Three of One Piece is off to a very good start as we can see from the First Voyage and after the filler episodes of the last voyage it is a good thing to see One Piece back on track. Skypia as well as the road to the island in the sky is loads of fun to watch and the story is just getting warmed up so the next episodes will definitely be an interesting one as the Straw Hats continue to explore the mysteries of Skypia.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
When a ship drops from the sky, the Straw Hat pirates decide to follow a rumor Robin Nico heard of about an island in the sky called Skypia. Yet in a nearby island, the rumors seem to be just that … until they encounter a man who knows how to get to Skypia. Once there, the Straw Hats discover that the island isn’t a heavenly as it seems.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
Skypia is an even more fascinating place than we have seen in past adventures with citizens of the sky island being a nice change of pace … just check out the spotted “Pegasus” the Sky Knight rides.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
Technically, this is the first season recorded in terms of the English dub by FUNimation but many of the voices still sound as good as they do in the releases of earlier seasons. The music is still just as good as well and fits the series well.

EXTRAS: C
There’s an audio commentary track for Episode 144 with the episodes ADR Director, Mike McFarland as well as Brina Palencia (Chopper) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Luffy) as they talk about their experiences working on their very first One Piece episode that happens to be this particular one. Plus, there are some trailers, clean opening and closing episodes and the Marathon Play feature.

OVERALL: A-
The First Voyage of Season Three of One Piece finds the Straw Hats in newer and stranger territory that feel like a return to vintage One Piece fun. The journey to Skypia itself is a blast to watch and, once there, the adventure takes a very fascinating turn that will prove to be another great story arc for this long series. The next voyage is sure to be even more fun so we are definitely on board for that.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment